Strategy for Revolution in 21st Century
Slovo: Has Socialism Failed? 1989 Its Relation to a Culture of Peace for the 21st Century


Marx and Engels:
Communist Manifesto

Civil War in France


Theory of History

Marx and Engels:
On Human Nature


Violence and the Origin of the State

Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

Marx, Engels, Lenin:
On Dialectics

What is to be done?


The State and Revolution

Lenin: War Communism

The Cultural Revolution

Left-Wing Communism

The American Revolutions

The French Revolutions

On Workers Control

On Religion

On the Arms Race

Militarization of Labor

Russian Revolution

The Women's Question

Role of Communist Party

On Violence

On the Army

On Women

Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

Mao and Fidel:
Fall of the American Empire

Man and Socialism in Cuba

Hall and Winston:
Fighting Racism

National Liberation and Culture

Cabral: National Liberation and Culture

Nkrumah: Neo-Colonialism

When socialist states collapsed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in 1989, there was no one better placed to understand its significance than Joe Slovo, the most respected theoretician of the South African Communist Party and a leader of the armed wing of the African National Congress, Umkhonto we Sizwe. The South African Party was on the verge of playing a major leadership role in the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa. His article, Has Socialism Failed? was read and debated by revolutionaries around the world.

In his introduction Slovo recognizes the seriousness of the problem: "Socialism is undoubtedly in the throes of a crisis greater than at any time since 1917," but he states that the crisis does not call into question the need for revolution and revolutionary theory. In a section called Marxist Theory Under Fire, he defends the fundamental tenets of socialism, including the necessity of class struggle, supremacy of human values, political democracy, rights of the individual and internationalism.

One of the reasons for the failure of socialism in Eastern Europe, according to Slovo, was the failure to develop socialist democracy. In a section entitled Socialism and Democracy, he says that "The thesis of the 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat' ... was used as the theoretical rationalisation for unbridled authoritarianism" and there was a "steady erosion of people's power both at the level of government and mass social organisations." Elected officials, trade unions, women's and youth organizations were "turned into transmission belts for decisions taken elsewhere and the individual members were little more than cogs of the vast bureaucratic machine."

As he says, the lack of democracy after the Russian Revolution and again during the Cold War was justified because of the military threat against the Soviet Union and other socialist countries posed by imperialism and fascism. In other words, it was the culture of war that blocked the development of democracy. Having organized armed struggle himself, Slovo is somewhat sympathetic to this, stating, "Without a limitation on democracy there was no way the revolution could have defended itself in the civil war and the direct intervention by the whole of the capitalist world." But he goes on to insist that this suppression of democracy should have been temporary and quickly replaced by the development of democratic participation by the masses of the people.

Although, as Slovo points out, "the concept of the single-party state is nowhere to be found in classical Marxist theory," the ruling parties of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe held a monopoly of political power and did not allow opposition parties. And within the monopoly party, there was little democratic participation. As Slovo says, "The concept of consensus effectively stifled dissent and promoted the completely unnatural appearance of unanimity on everything. Fundamental differences were either suppressed or silenced by the self-imposed discipline of so-called democratic centralism. In these conditions the democratic development of party policy became a virtual impossibility."

In a section entitled Socialist Economic Alienation, Slovo states that the socialist countries failed to overcome the alienation that they inherited from the previous capitalist economies. Socialism requires that the worker has "real participation in the mechanisms of social control over the products of his/her labour; a feeling that the means of production and its products are his or hers as part of society." But instead, "the immediate producers were given very little real control or participation in economic life beyond their own personal physical and/or mental exertions. In general, the over-centralised and commandist economies of the socialist world helped to entrench a form of 'socialist' alienation." Under these conditions "socialist alienation" turned out to be as bad or perhaps even worse than capitalist alienation.

The conclusions drawn by Joe Slovo apply to all 21st Century revolutionaries as well as to the Communist Party of South Africa which he addresses: "Our party's programme holds firmly to a post-apartheid state which will guarantee all citizens the basic rights and freedoms of organisation, speech, thought, press, movement, residence, conscience and religion; full trade union rights for all workers including the right to strike, and one person one vote in free and democratic elections. These freedoms constitute the very essence of our national liberation and socialist objectives and they clearly imply political pluralism.

"Both for these historical reasons and because experience has shown that an institutionalised one-party state has a strong propensity for authoritarianism, we remain protagonists of multi-party post-apartheid democracy both in the national democratic and socialist phases, is desirable.

"We believe that post-apartheid state power must clearly vest in the elected representatives of the people and not, directly or indirectly, in the administrative command of a party. The relationship which evolves between political parties and state structures must not, in any way, undermine the sovereignty of elected bodies.

"We also believe that if there is real democracy in the post-apartheid state, the way will be open for a peaceful progression towards our ultimate objective - a socialist South Africa."

In other words, Joe Slovo calls for a culture of peace. What he does not explain here is how one can defend the revolutionary movement and later the revolutionary state from violent reaction against it by the capitalist countries. How can they be defended without creating a socialist culture of war? Having led the armed wing of the ANC and then taken part in the building of democracy in post-apartheid South Africa, one would like to have heard more from him about this before his death in 1995.

To take part in a discussion about this page, go to the Discussion Board Forum on South Africa:

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Revolutionary socialist culture of peace

Culture of War

Internal Culture of War

Culture of Peace

Education for nonviolence and democracy

Sustainable development for all

Human rights vs exploitation

Women's equality vs patriarchy

Democratic participation vs authoritarianism

Tolerance and solidarity vs enemy images

Transparency vs secrecy

Disarmament vs armament

Revolutionary leadership

Revolutionary organization

Proletarian Internationalism

National Liberation

Guerrilla Warfare


Agent Provocateurs

Communication systems

Psychology for revolutionaries

Capitalist culture of war

Socialist culture of war

Winning Conflict by Nonviolence

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More Sources

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Peace Process

Soviet Union
Disarmament Proposals

Soviet Collapse

Has Socialism Failed?

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

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On Religion

Human Rights in South Africa

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on Nonviolence

on Communism

Cuba's revolutionary medicine

People-power revolution in the Philippines