Interview with Miguel Stedile on the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution

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Photo Credit: Resumen Latinoamericano

Source: Hemisferio Izquierdo / The Dawn News / Octubre 23, 2017

Given the marked historical division of the socialist movement since the difference in opinions on World War I and the Russian Revolution, what elements of this division are still operating today and what should be revised in relation to the current characteristics of class struggle? In particular, what is it that currently divides reformists from revolutionaries?

Unfortunately, I believe the situation is more complex. With the end of the USSR, Eastern Europe and the neoliberal offensive, the left entered a crisis at the theoretical level, where many rejected dialectic materialism and used post-modern tools to analyze reality—or, in other words, let themselves be contaminated by postmodern thought. If we don’t analyze reality with precise terms, we won’t be able to take action to transform it.

What followed is a crisis of program, because by denying the experience of the 20th century and rejecting materialism, they also renounced the goal of transforming society, politics became the art of doing what’s possible, what’s allowed by the conditions of the government, the coalition, etc. The possibility of structural transformation is no longer on the table, and strategic projects were replaced by government programs, limited and palliative in nature. Without the ability to critically analyze reality nor generate an alternative program to neoliberalism, many have been contaminated by neoliberal ideas, such as leaving the organization of society in the hands of the market.

Anyway, in any historic period and social class, the line that divides revolutionaries form reformists will always be about the degree of consistency between theory and practice and not about rhetoric, about whether they are willing to truly make a structural transformation. Without that, even the most radical discourses hide in their pessimism a degree of conformity with the current state of things.

The Russian Revolution enacted, in its many contradictions, the problem of power for the left. In this regard, what can we learn from the Soviet experience? How should a socialist strategy deal with the problem of power?

The Russian experience took many important steps regarding power and the exercise of power by the people. Obviously, soviets are the most important example. Without them, there would be no revolution, as Lenin and the Bolsheviks considered. Without them, there would have been no factory councils in Turín (which Gramsci recounted in 1921), the attempted insurrection in Germany, etc. The Russian revolution was only possible because power was displaced from the state apparatus to another form of power, which was capable of suppressing old forms.

I believe, however, that our Latin American societies are closer to Gramsci’s interpretation (he was a Leninist) and that in societies where power is not only held by the State apparatus we need to make bigger efforts and to conquer or build different “trenches” to build that “alternative power”. But, at the same time, despite the advance of neoliberalism, the conquest of power is still about the conquest of the State. The idea of “capitalism-free areas” has been proven in experiences that have either been isolated—in the negative sense of the term— or harmless to the system.

Despite all the mistakes and criticism that we have to make to the Soviet experience, at the same time we need to acknowledge that by eliminating the relation of domination of one class over the other, it released powerful energies. The Soviet power allowed an analphabet society, which didn’t know electrical power, to become modernized in only four decades, and, what’s more, to defeat the fascist threat and also send human beings to outer space for the first time.

If it had been free of bureaucracy and rigidity, the Soviet experience could have led the human experience to a degree of fulfillment that the human race still hasn’t known. That’s why I refuse to dismiss the historic experience of the USSR. On the contrary, the USSR was a gigantic work of thousands of people who can’t be reduced to nostalgia, museums and ostracism for their mistakes.

 

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