history of the soviet union

Paulo Pasta, Untitled, 2021, Oil On Canvas 24 x 18 cm


Commentary on Lincoln Secco's Book

Legend has it that, on a certain occasion, a congressman from São Paulo and the anarcho-syndicalist leader Edgard Leuenroth were talking, when the politician points to small ants carrying a leaf and says: “this is a soviet” (LEURENROTH, 1967). It's 1918, the world is traumatized by the carnage of the great world war and shaken by the new project of society: the Russian Proletarian Revolution.

Moniz Bandeira (2004), in his book the red year, shows us that every day the mainstream press announced the urgent overthrow of Lenin and his Republic of Soviets, something similar to what happens today with Cuba. (BANDEIRA, 2004).

Red Russia not only got through the first few days and months, it faced an international blockade, civil war, and allied foreign intervention – and won! In 1921, the Soviet Federation becomes the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and thus begins the consolidation of the first victorious socialist experience, which will be told in a simple way and in an easily accessible language by the historian Lincoln Secco.

The text is presented to us in three great moments: the first, the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, with the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, his death and the dispute for his succession. The second, with the dominance of Josef Stalin, the purges promoted by him, the Second War and reaches the Khruschev report in 1953. The third begins with the cited report going to its debacle.

In 74 years of existence, the USSR was a watershed and a political reference for all party, social and union movements in the world. Thanks to its existence, several countries broke with colonial domination, others with imperialism, and the option for a transition towards socialism was built in more than 30% of the countries in the world. But the debate about the Russian Revolution begins before Lenin and the Bolsheviks; begins with Alexandre I. Herzen and the generation of the 1830s (Lenin, 2021) and takes shape from the founding of the Party “The Will of the People” (narodniks)

With the publication of The capital (1867), particularly highlights chapters XXIII and XXIV on Primitive Accumulation when Marx and Engels are consulted in countless letters by Russian activists. Thus, in 1881, Vera Zasulitch, an important socialist activist – narodnik, he wrote to Karl Marx with the concern to know whether Russia would need to go through all the torments of the development of capitalism or whether it was possible to go to socialism based on the tradition of the agrarian commune.

To the narodniks, if Russia followed in the same footsteps as the western countries (England, France and Germany) and if the dissolution of the commune were inexorable, the socialists' strategy would have to change all its focus and be destined to a long-lasting campaign, making propaganda only among urban workers (ZASULITCH, 2003). Marx writes three drafts to Vera Zasulitch and finally sends her a fourth protocol letter on March 8, 1881.

In the drafts, Marx focuses on the historical and sociological conditions of the western communes and compares them with the Russian one. He remembers that in The capital took Western countries as a model and that this movement did not necessarily need to be followed in other countries such as Russia, but he sees the future of the commune with skepticism, since the State and the capitalist advance are undermining the archaic commune. It ends like this: “To save the Russian commune, a Russian revolution is needed” (MARX, 1982).

This initial debate takes shape with the emergence of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (RSDP), with the Revolution of 1905 and the appearance of the soviet in Saint Petersburg. Russia, an immense country, with delayed economic capitalist development, is building industrialization and its bourgeoisie in an accelerated way in the beginning of the XNUMXth century. The central idea is that the Russian Revolution will happen and it will be bourgeois: this is the belief of most socialist militants. What Lincoln Secco shows us is that the Russian Revolution happened as a bourgeois and proletarian Revolution.

This duality, perceived mainly by Lenin, “of the weakest link in the imperialist chain”, made him have a unique reading and leadership of the process. According to Claudin (1985), Lenin materialized Hegel's own absolute spirit, since he momentarily dominated the movements of history. This leadership, aided by a professional party and with the support of the proletariat and peasants, made possible the consolidation of revolutionary Russia. The defeated German and Hungarian Revolutions left Russia isolated and starving. The foreign delegation arriving for the Second Congress of the Communist International was horrified by the state of Moscow's destruction.

John Reed explained to the others that he was much better than the previous year (BROUÉ, 2007). With a devastated economic and social scenario, the isolated country and several political groups making oppositions about the directions that should be taken, it appears as a response to the New Economic Policy (NEP) and, in the political aspect, it was facing the dilemma posed by Machiavelli , in O Príncipe, on the dominance of the State: for the Revolution to survive it was necessary to form one or two generations within the new model of society, reducing opposition as much as possible. Thus was born the Bolshevik dictatorship. This is the period in which the X Congress of the CPSU – Bolshevik takes place, contradictorily the most democratic (BROUÉ, 2014) and, a little later, Vladimir Lenin dies.

Lincoln Secco demonstrates that debates about reality oppose the party in three fractions and three ways out for the future. Stalin's victory led to the collectivization of the countryside in a tragic way: it imposed forced labor, confiscations and revolts and, at the same time, the process of industrialization, electrification and improvement of urban living conditions took place. This is the moment when Stalin consolidates his power, eliminates internal divisions and acts to impose his rule. The purges take place and reach all leaders, militants and thinkers who opposed, questioned or could come to question its dictates; These were persecuted, arrested and even killed.

Lincoln Secco shows that there are contradictions in the immensity of numbers of lives persecuted (p. 58-60), but the fact remembered by Jacob Gorender and quoted in Lincoln Secco's book, that the USSR killed more communists than any capitalist regime was the Thermidorian moment price. Lincoln Secco does not relativize history, as postmoderns and liberals do. He shows that the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s were marked by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes and that Stalinism was part of the myriad. The outbreak of the Second World War by Nazi-Fascism and the Heroic War led by the USSR and the Communists against Nazi Germany and the Axis, then the support for the independence of the colonies from the European powers, gave the USSR and Stalin immense prestige, bringing broad social sectors to PCs around the world.

Lincoln Secco demonstrates that this moment generates a new contradiction: on the one hand, the prestige of the USSR and Stalin grew and, on the other, internationalism declined and its liquidation came first from the Third International (1943) and then from the Cominform (1956), organizations that practically became auxiliaries of the foreign relations of the USSR.

After Stalin's death follows the famous Khruschev report, critical of the Stalinist purges, which thereby opened the gap for the first major dissent within the world of real communism. China and then Albania moved away and with them a range of intellectuals, CPs and unions. This fact prevented, years later, collaboration between the two socialist giants; then, the contradictions of the economic model led to demonstrations for improvements in the model being treated as enemies and, in response, intervention and repression both in the 1950s and in 1968. Lincoln Secco recalls that the demonstrations were reformist and at that time, they asked for democracy in socialism. Later they became revolutionary, and in 1989 they opted for democratic liberalism.

The opening and subsequent political reforms since Khrushchev created an armed nuclear peace (Cold War), which mobilized the Soviet economic effort and collided with the model itself and its bureaucratic organization, which prevented technological and political dynamism. Political criticism could not be absolved by the system and the absence of civic freedoms (and not consumption, as neoliberals and liberals insist) collided with the rigid bureaucracy that reduced freedom and desires. Thus, the crisis of the 1980s, despite the Glasnost and Perestroika it will mark the end of the USSR in 1991 (p. 122).

Demonstrations against the regime and control of the USSR took to the streets in 1989, first in Berlin and then in other European countries; there the multitudes face the bureaucracy of the states of real socialism. Gradually it became clear that the Soviet bureaucracy was isolated and this, associated with internal crises, contributed to the fall of the USSR, which collapsed like a house of cards. Lincoln Secco makes it clear that there was no outside force acting against the USSR. On the contrary, the explanations given by liberal – and even socialist – literature of failure in the use of information technology and other technologies were not real, the economic situation was not one of failure and the advances in medicine, mathematics, physics, aerospace are, until today, evident.

There was a choice of a majority of the bureaucracy to leave the isolation, reestablishing the laws of the market. There were many “leftist militants” who joined the victorious neoliberals Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, who celebrated at the Brandenburg Gate the fall of real socialism and the USSR. Some believed in a “new human ethical project”, which would be born with the end of Soviet socialism through a humanized capitalism. Others believed in a political revolution thought up at a certain moment by Trotsky. The fact is that the option for extreme neoliberalism in Eastern European countries led to authoritarian and proto-fascist regimes in countries like Ukraine, Poland and Hungary. The fact is that living conditions today are lower than 30 years ago.

The USSR's geopolitical debacle left capitalism without an effective political response and enabled the destruction of social and labor rights around the world. Powerful union organizations dehydrated, important political parties like the PCI, PCE and others ended or became residual. All this led to Vladimir Putin remembering that the end of the USSR was a geopolitical disaster.

Lincoln Secco's essay struck me as a great early work. He comments, in the preface, that it is a “brief and didactic” effort that needs to be deepened and I hope he continues to do so. I believe that in this request for the continuation of your research, I would point out some elements that, I believe, could contribute to deepen the analysis of the period, the importance and the impact that the Russian Revolution and the USSR had throughout the XNUMXth century.

In this case, I suggest two topics: in the first part, the debate opened by Rosa Luxemburg on the risk of totalitarianism at the very origin of the Russian Revolution; then, the contribution of some other “critical allegiances” expressed by Mariátegui and Gramsci, for example. I also believe that the development of the NEP and later, collectivization, received important criticism from Trotsky, on the one hand, and from the later Kautsky, on the other. Equally, the nature of the Soviet State that begins with Lenin characterizing it as State capitalism, passing through the contribution of Trotsky and other thinkers would be very important. Likewise, in the last period, the criticisms of the Maoists and other Marxists of the USSR, such as Ernest Mandel, Charles Bettelheim and Nicos Poulantzas would help a lot in building a balance and perspectives for the continuity of the struggles for human emancipation.

In the early 1990s, the Marxist historian Pierre Broué (1989), in a lecture in São Paulo, commented that, with the end of the USSR and Real Socialism, the way to overcome the differences between Marxists (Stalinists, Maoists , Trotskyists, etc.) would be open. Here are some serious contributions and reflections for the refoundation of communism as a human ethical movement. That's why I think that Professor Lincoln Secco's work is part of this perspective.

Lastly, History of the Soviet Union: an introduction it is an important contribution to the debate; I believe that in the next edition they could present a more consistent cover and also ears in the book.

*John Kennedy Ferreira Professor of Sociology at the Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA).

Originally published on the website marxism21.


Lincoln Secco. History of the Soviet Union: an introduction. São Paulo, Maria Antônia Editions, 2020, 2nd ed., 194 pages.


BANDEIRA, Moniz (2004). The Red Year: the Russian Revolution and its reflections in Brazil. Sao Paulo: Popular Expression.

BROUÉ, Pierre (2007). History of the Communist International (1919-1943). Trans.: Fernando Ferrone. Sao Paulo: Sundermann.

BROUÉ, Pierre (2014) The Bolshevik Party. Sao Paulo: Sundermann.

BROUÉ, Pierre (1989) Soviet Union – Travel impressions. Theory and Debate Magazine. Sao Paulo: Perseu Abramo Foundation.

CLAUDIN, Fernando (1985). The Crisis of the Communist Movement. Sao Paulo: Ed. Global.

LENIN, VI In Memory of Herzen in https://www.marxists.org/ingles/lenin/1912/05/08.htm Retrieved February 9, 2021

LEUENROTH, Edgard (1967). Testimony on the Russian Revolution, in Magazine of Brazilian Civilization. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization.

MARX, K and ENGELS, F (1982). Draft of the letter to Vera Zasulitch. In FERNANDES, RC (org). Dilemmas of Socialism – the controversy between Marx, Engels and Russian populists. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. Peace and Earth.

ZASULITCH, Vera (2003). Letter to K. Marx. in Roots, 22 vols. 2. Journal of Social and Economic Sciences. Comments by Edgard Malagodi. Campina Grande: UFCG

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