In the theory of socialism, the workers own the means of production--meaning that they own the facilities which produce raw materials, as well as the factories which use those raw materials to make the finished goods which people will need, and, one hopes, want. I can't stress too much this aspect of socialist theory, which doesn't mean either that it worked out that way in socialist states, nor that socialist parties in western democracies necessarily intend to create such an economic system. Many nations of Europe have active and successful socialist political parties, and they have never been known to attempt to impose on society the absolute ownership of the means of production by the populace. In general, in practice, western European socialist parties have worked to improve the social support systems of their nations (health care delivery systems, fair labor standards legislation and enforcement, the careful regulation of wages and hours worked, the regulation of pension plans--for example, in France, which has had several successful socialist governments, the work week was reduced from 40 hours to 35 hours, without any reduction in the payroll to workers. That is now considered a liability because France is less productive than it used to be. But every country in Europe is currently less productive than it used to be, so it can't be blamed on the 35 hour work week. It can reasonably be blamed indirectly on the greed of irresponsible financial investors in North America.
A gentleman from Prussia, in Germany, named Joseph Weydemeyer, was a contemporary of Karl Marx, and a socilialist theoriest whose work even impressed Marx, who adopted his term "the dictatorshp of the proletariat." Weydemeyer took part in the 1848 socialist uprisings in Europe, which were eventually brutally repressed by the "Holy Alliance," Russia, Austria and Prussia. Like so many of the "Forty-eighters," he brought his family to the United States, where he continued to theorize about socialism, to found an American workers' party, and like so meny of the Forty-eighters, to fight for Mr. Lincoln in the American Civil War.
Karl Marx incorporated the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat into his theory of socialism, which has come to be called communism. His idea was that the workers could only own the means of production if they formed the government and dictated economic terms to their society. Marx long lived in England, and spent his days at the British Museum, reading about communal groups and ideas from the past. In England there were a series of three civil wars in the 1640s, and in January, 1649, Parliament, who had been fighting the king, executed King Charles I. The army of Parliament, the New Model Army, had won the civil wars because of the dedication and the enthusiasm of the dissenters--radical christians who were neither Puritans nor members of the Church of England. Many of those who did not go off to fight became what were known as Diggers. They were called Diggers because they would dig up the commons--the land in every village where the villagers could graze their livestock--and plant food crops, to make themselves independent of the nation economy. If imes were lean, everyone had short commons; if times were good, everyone ate well. They owned everything in common. Most of them were the type of dissenters known in England as Independents, and in North America as Congreationalists. They recognized no higher authority than their local christian congregation. Those of their members who were with the New Model Army wanted civil rights and a written constitution. Without going into details, they didn't get it, and they were brutally suppressed by the Major Generals of the army. These men were known as, and called themselves Agitators, with a capital "A." They were the first communist agitators.
Marx didn't care about the religious aspects, but he was convinced that the Diggers had shown that such a socity could succeed. Like most theorists, he lived in a dream world which took little notic of reality. The DIggers had been able to succeed because of the Puritans who controlled Parliament, and because of the civil wars which overthrew most established authority. Oliver Cromwell, the most successful general of the New Model Army, eventually became the Lord Protector, a king in all but name, and his quiet affection for the dissenters whose devotion had made his army invincible did not interfere with the Diggers--so they had a long run. In normally organized societies, established authorities are not going to put up with even that form of non-violent rebellion against the established order, and th is was brutally brought home to Europe in the failed socialist uprisings of 1848. There was also a man named Leboeuf who, during the French revolution advocated the common ownership of all property--unfortunately for him, he lived in the time of the Directory, the middle-class, conservative counterrevolution, who quickly found an excuse to execute him. The Diggers and Leboeuf's ideas were very influential with Marx. Once again, he had his head in the clouds, ignoring that the Digges did not survive the Restoration of 1660 when Charles, the son of King Charles who had been executed, became king himself a couple of years after Cromwell died. He ignored what happened to Leboeuf.
In Russia, the socialist party was called the Russian Workers' Party. One of their leaders, who had to get out of Dodge, was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, who used the alias Lenin. His older brother Alexander had been convicted as a revolutionary who planned to assassinate the Emperor Alexander III in St. Petersburg, and was hanged. This undoubtedly had a profound influence of Vladimir, who soon made himself the leader of the members of the Russian Workers' Party in exile in western Europe. At the Second Internationale of European Socialist in Belgium (1903?), Lenin pulled off a series of parliamentary dodges which made him and his cronies the leaders of the Russian Workers' Party. So, they called themselves the Bolsheviks. Bolshoi
means big in Russian, and bolsheviki
means a member of the majority. In fact, the Bolsheviks were the minority of the party. The majority of the party, the Mensheviks (which actually means the minority), broke with Lenin, and planned an uprising, which Lenin had forbidden. Russia lost a war with Japan in 1905, and in the wake of the defeat, the Mensheviks rose against the government. They filaed and were brutally crushed. Thereafter, Lenin was able to take over the party in reality. Bolsheviks were sent out to get jobs in factories, and were organized into cells. If you and i and Dlowan form a cell, we work for the party and for the revolution, but we don't know who the people are in the other cells, so even when Rober Gentel arrests us, we can't betray Chai and her bomb-throwers, because we don't know about them. It was a very successful way to organize, and only a handful of people high in the party knew who were in the cells and who the cell leaders were.
Marx had always dreamed that the German socialists would lead the successful socialist revolution. The German socialists were the best orgnized socialist party in Europe, and that was probably because German factory workers were paid less than factory workers in the rest of Europe and worked in horrible conditions. It was a prescription for recruiting socialists to the party. When someone once pointed out to Marx how well the Russian Workers' Party was organized, and how disciplined and fanatical the members were, he contemptously dismissed the Russians as primitves and pointed out that Russia was not an industrialized nation.
When war broke out in 1914, despite all the propaganda, German socialists rushed off to enlist to go kill the French and the Belgians, and French and Belgian socialist rushed otf to enlist to go kill the Germans. In Russia, with the party now under the iron control of Lenin, as men marched off to war, Bolsheviks got even more jobs in the factories, which were concentrated at St. Petersburg and Moscow. When the Pharaohs, the Russian secret police, would discover and break up a Russian Workers' Party cell, they'd send the members off to the front--which meant that Bolshevik loyalists were able to spread their cotrines in the army. Finally, in February, 1917 (March by out calender, which the Russians didn't use), the price of bread rose so high that the women in the factories at St. Petersburg decided to mark down the Nevsky Prospekt--the Fifth Avenue of St. Petersburg-- to protest. The Bolshevik organizers in the factories told them not to do it. The women ignored them and marched into the heart of the city. Being there in their thousands, they were more than the Pharaohs could handle. They called in the Cossacks of the Emperors guard, and the women went among them asking them "You wouldn't hurt me, would you Little Mother?" (an affectionate term used for men or women). The Cossacks did nothing, and the women pushed past their horses or stooped under the horses bellies, and the Pharaohs could see the hand-writing on the wall. They got out of dodge as fast as their fat little legs would carry them. The Emperor, the Tsar Nicholas, had gone to the front to inspire the troops (oh yeah, that worked a treat
), so authority in St. Petersburg collapsed pretty qucikly. Russian troops in St. Petersburg stayed in their barracks because their moral leadership was vested inte Bolsheviks who had been drafter and not in their officers. The fleet had been socialist for a long time--during the 1905 uprising, the crew of the battleship Potemkin
had mutinied, killing some of their officers, and steaming Odessa to support the rebellion. The cruiser Aurora
was docked at St. Petersburg, and supported this 1917 rebellion, sending armed sailors to support the women. The idiot Bolsheviks in the factories who had told the women not to march realized that they wear losing their grip, so they rushed off to join the rebellion--but too late to take over. A provisional government was organized, and was consistently opposed by the Soldiers and Sailors Soviet (soviet just means a committee), making the government largely ineffective. A man named Kerensky, basically a center-right politician, formed a government whick kinda-sorta ruled Russia. Troops sent from the front to put down the rebellion ended up on a tour of parts of Russian they had never seen before--the railroads had been taken over the the socialists generations before. The Russian Revolution truly was a revolution of the people, and none of the smarty-pants from any of the political parties were truly in control.
In 1916, the English had lauched what most people who don't understand history consider a disastrous campaign known at the Battle of the Somme. (The Somme is a river in Picardy in northern France.) At the height of the battle, the English suffered 50,000 men killed or wounded every day
. But what most people don't understand was that the Germans were rushing all of their reserves to the site of the battle, and they were close to collapse. In the spring of 1917, Field Marshall Haig intended to renew the battle, and the Germans were crappin' in their pants, because they had no more reserves. The disaster, however, took place in London. The Prime Minister was a man called H. H. Asquith, one of the few English Prime Ministers i actualy respect. He had a weasel in his cabinet by the the name of Lloyd George. There was a conservative newpaper magnate name Lord Northcliffe who hated Asquith, and wanted him out of 10 Downing Street. In December, 1916, Northcliffe and Lloyd George conspired to get rid of Asquith and Lloyd George became Prime Minister. By the spring of 1917, Lloyd George (whom Haig described as "a slippery character") had agreed to send troops to the French for an offensive which was so doomed that it failed before it hardly got started.
The Germans, of couse, could not know this would happen, and in desperation they sent a special train to the Swiss border. There, they picked up Lenin and his buddies, and rushed them across German to the Baltic, and put them on a ship for Finland. Being forewarned, the Belshevik slapstick team of Lev Bronstien (alias Leon Trotsky) and Jozef Djugashvilli (alias Stalin) finally did something right, and started a rebellion against Kerensky's government just days before Lenin arrived by train at the Finland Station in St. Petersburg. By then, the Germans had been saved by the incomparable military stupidity of Lloyd George, but they were not in a position to know that. They wanted Russia out of the war. Kerensky had reluctantly agreed to a new offensive against the Germans which proved a disaster, and prepared the ground for the Bolshevik rebellion. It took place in October, 1917 (November by our calendar) and was called Krazny Oktyabr
--Red October. It was a largely bloodless rebellion, and Lenine was quickly in charge.
I won't go into all the intribues of the St. Petersburg Soviet, the Moscow Soviet and Stalin's newly discovered talent for intribue and backstabbing. In late 1919, a woman named Feiga Haimovna Roytblat (alias Dora Kaplan) shot Lenin as he left a lecture hall. Lenin survived, but he never recovered his former vigor and energy. He leaned more and more on Stalin, whom he absolutely did not trust, but who had already begun to gather all the strings of power into his own hands.
Marx had considered Russia ineligible for the socialist revolution because it was not indus.trialized. Lenin himself came to realize the truth of the propositon, so he instituted the NEP, the new economic plan. The purpose of the plan was to create the industrial state which would then be handed over to the dictatorship of the proletariat. He got people like Henry Ford and Armand Hammer to help him out. However, his health ruined, he died in January, 1924. Stalin moved quickly to consolidate his power.
Stalin carried out purges, to remove the refractory and to put h is own men in place. The Soviet Union became a place of constant fear, and sometimes of terror. Dora Kaplan has been a member of the Social Revolutionaries, so her assassination attempt against Lenin was used as an excuse to eliminate them. The Peasants Party had handed out land, with the cooperation of the Social Revolutionaries, just after the revolution, so Stalin moved to scotch that. He demonized the new peasnat landowners as Kulaks--misers (kulak
means fist, the idea being that Kulaks are misers with their money tightly gripped in their fists). These land owners were deported to other parts of the country, and their property taken over for collective farms--almost a half a million people died of starvation or the diseases of malnutrition in the Kulak deportations.
People became terrified. Everyone kept their heads down. No one shoewd any ambition outside the upper levels of the Communist Party, and even that was dangerous. No one had any incentive to do good work--they got paid, badly, whether they worked hard or not. The factory managers and the managers of the collective farms only cared about meeting quotas, and they would lie, cheat and steal to meet their quotas, or make it look as though they had met their quotas. Forced labor camps for everyone from petty criminals to political prisoners were set up by an agency known as Gulag. During the Great Patriotic War, just being captured by the Germans was enough to get you sent to the Gulag if you escaped. Stalin's terror lasted for almost 30 years, until his death in 1953. By then, the habit of dictatorial control was so ingrained in the Politburo and the Central Committe that there was no real hope for reform. No one really knows what communism might have accomplished in Russia because it was never practiced there--it was a terrorist state in the sense that the Cheka, its successor the NKVD and its successor the KGB terrorized the population. Dissent meant either death with a bullet to the back of the head, or a one way ticket to the Gulag, which was often a sentence of death. There was a dictatorship, but it wasn't the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was the dicatorship of cults of persoality, beginning with Stalin. It only finally unraveled under Mickhail Gorbachev, which is another story altogether.
Socialism does not necearily mean the terror of Stalinsit Russia, or the drab, dreay life of shortages and fear that the Russians endured. It also doesn't necessarily mean the gross exploitaiton of the poor one sees now in China, where the Central Committe have grafer capitalist greed onto an increasingly indifferent state--indifferent to the quality of life for the proletariat, the workers who have never controled the means of production.
Well, now you've made me neglect my duties at facebook, and waste half the afternoon. I hope you're happy, Gracie. This is too long to reread and edit, so you'll just have to put up with typos, misspellings and any other errors. Every last word is the gospel truth, no lie, and, of course, completely unbiased.
(OK, i did a little editing.)