Is a peaceful path to socialism possible?

BY: Carl Wood| January 20, 2021
Is a peaceful path to socialism possible?
QWhen it comes to Leninism we support the aspects of anti-imperialism, peaceful coexistence with other nations, etc.  But what do we think of Lenin’s use of revolutionary violence?  Is it because of the conditions specific to Russia at the time more than aspects inherent to Leninism?

Those who decry “revolutionary violence” typically ignore the fact that exploitative societies are universally characterized by the use of violence to protect the status quo.  The history of the United States, for example, is drenched with the blood of indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans, and occupants of conquered and annexed territories.  

Official and unofficial violence has been used to establish and maintain Jim Crow racial inequality after Reconstruction and to suppress union organization.  To this day, police violence in communities of color is widespread and rarely prosecuted.

Communists in our country and others advocate a preferred path to socialism through elections and other peaceful means, but history indicates that a threatened exploiting class will rarely (never) refrain from violence in protecting its class privileges.  A peaceful transition to socialism is probably possible only when the revolutionary class and its allies can mobilize such overwhelming support that even the instruments of state power (police and military) are immobilized.

Several factors existed in pre-revolutionary Russia to make a “peaceful” transition to socialism impossible.  The overwhelming majority of the population were rural peasants, largely illiterate living in isolated communities.  Russia had no recognized civic rights or liberties, no civic culture of legal public organizations and no experience with meaningful elections involving the exploited classes.

Even so, serious violence only began after the revolutionaries took power, and they were confronted with the armed resistance of the imperial and aristocratic forces, the bourgeoisie and invading armies from 21 capitalist countries.

So far, the experience with attempted peaceful electoral transitions to socialism has not been encouraging.  In 1933, after the last free elections held in Germany resulted in gains for the working class parties, the big bourgeoisie prevailed upon President von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor, who quickly outlawed and began rounding up and murdering Communists and other opponents.  

A few years later, fascist military forces attacked and overthrew a progressive government in Spain that included Communists and Socialists.  There are too many other examples to list here, but they include the overthrow of the elected progressive Arbenz regime in Guatemala, the slaughter of more than ½ million Indonesian Communists in 1965, and the bloody coup against the elected President Allende in Chile.

In light of this history, one might ask why do we still support and advocate a peaceful transition to socialism?  The short answer is that given the consequences of an all-out armed struggle for socialism in an advanced capitalist country like the U.S., given the demonstrated willingness of a doomed ruling class to take down all of society with it (for example, Hitler and the Nazis in 1945), we have no choice but to work for a peaceful transition to socialism despite the difficulties.

The comparison is not precise, but the current (apparently successful) mass demand that a reluctant President Trump step down after his clear electoral defeat is an indication of the power of broad-based movements to enforce democratic electoral outcomes.

    Carl Wood is a retired electrician in the steel and utility industries, where he served in numerous union leadership capacities.  He has been a lifelong activist in the peace and racial justice movements.

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