The Years When Anything was Possible: a Marxist Analysis of the Twentieth Century

World War One

The Rise of Communism

The Rise of Fascism

World War Two

The Building of the Nuclear Bomb

The Polarisation of International Politics

The Threat of Global Annihilation

It seems like a lot to have happened within 100 years, but this was the twentieth century; ten decades which would change the course of humanity. The wars, genocides, revolutions and discoveries that took place between 1900 and 2000 demonstrate, for better or for worse, just what mankind is capable of. Sometimes, these included great technological feats, others, great atrocities, yet the twentieth century also saw something never before seen in history: man’s brilliance and creativity catching up with him.

The question is, however, why were these years so dramatic?

Take, World War One, for example. This was a war which Germany predicted long before it occurred, the causes of which, as most agree, were rooted in the geopolitical situation at the end of the nineteenth century. Thus, it would appear that this event was the result of years of tension, and that tension was released in the form of a battle. Many argue that it is because of this war that World War Two occurred, or that Hitler and Stalin came to power. If this was true then it would seem that the entirety of the drama that followed was a result of nineteenth century politics.

I, however, believe it goes deeper than that, and that the root cause of the 100 year long epic was not a singular war. The Russian Revolution is a good example, for it is an event which divided the political scene for the next seventy-four years. It may seem that this revolution only took place because of the damage done to Russia during the war with Germany, but I believe it’s more complicated than that; the ousting of the tsar was almost inevitable, and when the Bolsheviks took power, they were riding on the back of 200 years worth of social change. Perhaps the conflict provided an opportunity for revolution, but revolution would have occurred regardless.

Given that this is the case, events such as the rise of fascism and the Second World War need re-examining. There are certainly reasons that suggest the war was involved, but most agree these two events would have not happened had Europe been stable. This is why I believe that the primary cause of this 100-year-long epic was economics, or more specifically, capitalism.

The war, in fact, ties into this, for World War One was a conflict between the imperialist powers of Europe, all fighting for their own colonial interests, all in, as Lenin called it, the ‘Highest Stage of Capitalism.’ This would mean that the damage done to postwar Germany was as a result of their loss in a financial conflict. After the war’s conclusion, communism should have followed imminently, given the state of the capitalist world, and it very nearly did. The red flame was ignited in the Russian Empire, and spread to Central Asia, Eastern Europe and would have spread to Germany (look at events such as the Spartacist Rebellion), but failed.

This was because Germany’s decaying capitalist system yielded not to socialism, but fascism (or capitalism in decay, to quote Lenin). This led to another conflict, allowing other capitalist countries to strengthen military, and halting the revolution at Berlin. A great percentage of the drama, triumphs and disasters that followed are the shockwaves of the great tension in the world, as capitalism and communism stood side by side, and humanity teetered on the brink of revolution.

Yet the revolution never came, and by the early 1990s, the international bourgeois had prevailed. This was largely due to a number of factors, but perhaps the primary reasons were the immaturity of the revolution, alongside the evolutionary ability of capitalism to change and adapt. But Cold War tensions still exist in the world, and NATO still fears the morals and potential of the Russian Federation. It seems that, after communism’s departure, fresh tensions have arisen in its absence, tensions which have increased in recent years.

Should this continue, the unrest that marked the previous century may spill over into this one.

The ‘C’ Word

There is much controversy surrounding the word I’m thinking of.

You don’t hear it much out and about, but most know its meaning. It seems that it’s always used in a negative way, often as an insult, and has been known to induce attitude shock or offence (so much so that artistic expression of the concept is, in certain countries, considered so inappropriate that it’s actually illegal). This is somewhat unusual, as it acquired the power to insult when it was never originally supposed to, and became synonymous with words and ideas to which it once bore no relation. In fact, when it first came into being, it was often associated with something rather wonderful, but if you tell someone today they’re a complete c______, I doubt you’ll get a positive response.

Yes, communism has been a controversial word for a long while. Somewhere down the line, it became a well-known enemy, and we saw it as such for the remainder of the twentieth century. We even created brilliant works of propaganda on the concept; perhaps it was coming to overthrow your democracy and install a dictatorial puppet state, or maybe it was (and there is truth behind this, though aggression was obviously far from one-sided) on the verge of flattening New York with a nine-megaton bomb, but it was a monster all the same. Society came to agree that whatever the communists were planning, something bad would happen as a result.

The question is, however, when did this all start?

Ever since 1917, many saw in communist Russia a foe. This can be traced back to the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, a conflict that occurred just after the catastrophic defeats of World War One. But the communist terror and angst that would later plague Europe and North America was, at that point, largely nonexistent; in these early years, the west was largely unaware of both the political terror and the military challenge the regime would later provide, and thus, to call yourself a communist probably didn’t mean a great deal, for communism was really just another radical idea. I once read an American newspaper headline at the time of the Russian Revolution, which described the Bolsheviks as ‘extremists’, comparing them with ‘moderate governments’ before them. Whilst I definitely felt anti-Bolshevik sentiment expressed there, the article implied nothing significant or special about their cause – the only distinction it drew between the party that would later lead their future nemesis and the easily forgotten Provisional Government, which assumed power for a brief, eight month period before October, was a mere statement that one was radical while the other was moderate.

In fact, many in the west were far more open to the prospect of communism than this. George Bernard Shaw, for example, even advised the British unemployed to travel to the USSR, under the impression that they would be given a job. It’s also known that the intelligentsia in the United Kingdom were a lot more sympathetic towards the Soviet Union than you might expect, and many respected their ideals in a way that would seem unimaginable during the years of the Cold War. This continued throughout the repression of Stalin’s era, and people still managed to find sympathy with his political system. I even heard that information regarding oppression in the Soviet Union was actually covered up by those able to do so, for fear that it may soil the image of Russia that many westerners undoubtedly clung to.

Only thirty or fourty years later, however, far from withdrawing information to preserve Soviet support, western governments would dress-up and dramatize reality in the Eastern Bloc almost to an unfair level, printing McCarthyist slogans in black, probably against a red background and a hammer-and-sickle to add a sinister quality. After the 1917 revolution, tensions did occur between the communist and capitalist world, but during the war something snapped, and relationships deteriorated almost to the level of sparking a World War Three. Communism, as a term, almost became synonymous with fascism, and I’m willing to bet that plenty don’t know the difference, which is strange, given that only a few decades previously, this word would have accurately described the views of many in the west.


There isn’t one explanation for the change, nor for why it occurred at that moment, and on reflection, it may seem odd that the Cold War began in 1945 and not 1917. After all, an obvious explanation for the post-war tensions is the lack of any need preserve a situation of comradeship with the Soviet Union, once fascism had been finally defeated, but nor was there a need to maintain diplomacy throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s. It would also be easy to assume that communist aggression towards the west began only after the war, but this is again untrue; Lenin once referred to England as the Soviet Union’s greatest enemy, and Soviet military action in the then-British colony of India proves that such statements weren’t at all hollow. So, as I understand it, there is only one reason as to why perceptions of communism changed worldwide, this being military prowess.

The USSR emerged from the war a highly capable country, and, if another conflict was to occur, the prospect of a western defeat was incredibly likely. Thus, though tyranny, repression and starvation were known prior to the war, they were largely ignored. Now that the west had a reason to fear the regime, however, a hatred for communism, with the assistance of these facts, was cultivated in no time. Whilst writing, I’m aware that I’ve come across as critical towards Soviet communism, and I am (by ‘Soviet communism’, I mean the Soviet Union after 1924), yet I’m a communist nonetheless, and I’m also critical of the west during this scenario, for I feel that the demonization of communism didn’t occur due to the oppression and failures it brought about where it was attempted, but simply due to the fact that it provided a potential enemy. This highlights a disgusting aspect of the political situation in the western world, this being the opportunistic tendencies of democratic, western governments, to ally or break with the worst kinds of states or governments when it suits their own interests, no matter how authoritarian, repressive, or simply wrong they may be (I’m not talking about a credible means-to-an-end kind of scenario – although this is likely a popular justification – I’m just talking about when it suits the interests of the international capitalists). To the western world, such an ideology wasn’t evil from the start; it only became so when it threatened capitalism. This was why the ‘C’ word gathered such negativity. Not because of careful observation of socialism’s many failures, but due to the material conditions the capitalist world found themselves in. In short, it was it only when it actually stood a chance that communism stopped being cool.

Though quite different in content, this entry was inspired by the excellent post ‘The s-word’ by ‘Guts of a Beggar’, which you can find here:

If you liked this entry (or even if you didn’t!) I’d recommend reading its predecessor.

The Third ‘Bloc’ That Never Happened: Tito and the Non-Aligned Movement

The idea of socialism outside of the Eastern Bloc has surfaced multiple times in history, perhaps most famously among the communist left, and later the followers of Mao Tse-tung or, to a lesser extent, Che Guevara. It will have undoubtedly intrigued many intellectuals and revolutionaries since the birth of the USSR, one of whom I will focus on in particular…

Josip Broz Tito, the Croatian-born leader of Yugoslavia did something both extraordinary and also somewhat reckless, which, I’ve decided, shall be the subject of this entry: he led the first state in Eastern Europe, then in the grip of Soviet influence, to become ‘socialist, but independent’.

Josip Broz Tito

What relevance does this have? Well, April is the month which, twenty-three years ago, saw the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On April 28th, 1992, Serbia (the last of the Yugoslav republics) became an independent nation, serving as the final nail in the coffin for the great communist federation of South-eastern Europe. This was a country fundamentally different to many others: it was among the first to have been liberated by the Red Army, yet to reject the USSR, and operated under the system that could have been described as ‘council communism’, where worker’s councils and unions would provide the basis for socialist transformation, which could be seen in contrast to that of the Soviet Union.

Yet equally interesting are the social and political ideas of international socialism Marshall Tito upheld, for he was an active member, and later leader, of the Non-Aligned movement. This is an ongoing organisation representing the interests of developing countries, with the founding aim of ‘opposing imperialism and neo-colonialism, especially from western domination.’ Such an idea was most apparent in the Cold War’s polarisation of political identities, with the desire to create an ‘independent pathway’ for these states so that they would adhere to neither the USA nor the USSR.

I’ll say this now: this entry is not an opinionated one; I won’t go into depth about my personal views on the subject or on the political views of Tito generally. Rather, I’m writing discuss this idea of an ‘independent pathway’, and its relevance to both communism and capitalism respectively.

The Movement's Member States

The Movement’s Member States

Coming back to the Cold War, it couldn’t have been a more interesting time to consider a third power arising in the world, combatting both the Eastern and Western Blocs with a newly-developed idea of proletarian internationalism. It would also provide an opportunity to oppose what could have been perceived as Soviet imperialism (a particular criticism which did gain a degree of popularity) whilst remaining true to the principles of communism. In other words, you would no longer have to bear the label of ‘Soviet sympathiser’ to consider yourself a communist.

In the latter half of the previous century, however, history seems to have had other ideas. The two ‘Blocs’, the great realms of power split Europe down the middle similarly to how the Triple Entente once calved Imperial Germany and its neighbours out of the rest of the continent, only such a division was far clearer easily distinguishable now that it adopted political connotations. Yet it was surely obvious that such a scenario, this is to say Europe’s division into a communist east and a capitalist west, could never have been a permanent situation, making the arisal of a third power bloc perfectly possible. Why then, in a climate of hate and tension, when a third way was definitely on the cards, didn’t this new union form?

I’ve been thinking, and here are the reasons I’ve managed to come up with:

Five Reasons as to Why the ‘Third Bloc’ Never Arose

  1. A lack of information of Marxist philosophy or communism as a political theory within these countries (especially in the less-well-developed nations).
  1. A lack of the necessary conditions for communist revolution due to the existence of less-advanced methods of production.
  1. The development of a view picturing both west and east alike as ‘similarly evil’ threats to these nations and cultures, without adequate consideration of the political climate, and thus the demand for the national sovereignty against the two powers compromising proletarian revolution.
  1. The division of these nations by the two powers, directing them against each other and against the respective power blocs, as the west and the east’s sphere of influence adapts the political climate of these countries to their immediate needs, an example of which would the United Kingdom’s influence over the former British colonies.
  1. The tendency of the division separating the capitalist and the communist world to polarise political thought worldwide, rendering the construction of a third power increasingly difficult.

While we’re at it, we may as well look at the collapse of communism in the Eastern Bloc as well:

Five Reasons as to Why the Eastern Bloc Fragmented

  1. The development of nuclear weapons west of the division, and thus the rising possibility that a war may result in apocalyptic outcomes, preventing the socialist states from military advancement.
  1. The general lack of evidence pointing to an improvement in the economic circumstances within the communist world, causing a lack of faith and enthusiasm for communist lifestyle and the idea of reaching ‘true communism’.
  1. The decline of ideological stability among the populace as what have been recognised as capitalist principles, e.g. corruption and inequality, became apparent in communist regimes.
  1. The development of western capitalism to a stage regarded as acceptable by many of the would-be exploited in the west, internally strengthening capitalist society and removing the strong base of proletarian support the socialist states could have relied upon for revolution, or at least sympathy, within these countries.
  1. The struggle for the stagnating autocratic regimes to maintain power over the populations of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the face of modernisation, coupled with the weakening of their authority in general.

I’ll finish with this thought: Tito is long dead, and Yugoslavia dissolved over two decades ago. Yet if such hadn’t happened, that is to say, if the political climate was such that the new state was able to arise, who knows what the result would be. Perhaps the proletariat of these nations would line up under Tito’s leadership, against the troops of the USA, the USSR, Great Britain, the People’s Republic of Poland, France and Hungary; perhaps the task of revolution would entail a struggle against not only the capitalist, but also the communist world.

It’s ironic, when you think about it, and fairly shameful for both sides of the Berlin Wall. Just imagine how Stalin, the man who is quoted to have said ‘I will shake my little finger and there will be no more Tito!’ would have reacted.