Revolutionary Socialism

Revolutionary socialism is linked closely to Marxism and refers to a strand in socialist thought that argues that the only way to achieve socialist goals is to overthrow the existing system and replace it with something substantively different. 

The main differences between revolutionary socialism (such as Marxism and syndicalism) and social democracy can be summed up as being over-method and approach. Revolutionary socialists believe that a violent overthrow of the capitalist state is necessary to usher in socialism, such as was seen in Russia in 1917 and China in 1949. Social democrats, by contrast, believe that the capitalist state can be changed gradually and peacefully over time to create a socialist society.

This theory emerged in the nineteenth century in various forms and gained popularity when voting rights were limited and trade unions were illegal. Revolutionary socialists believed in the necessity of revolution due to the state being controlled by the ruling class. They argued that even if voting rights were granted, it would not truly represent the interests of the working class. Their goal was the complete elimination of capitalism and class divisions, leading to equality through communism. Marx proposed a transitional phase known as 'the dictatorship of the proletariat' before achieving full communism. The Russian Revolution of 1917 marked the first successful socialist revolution, led by Lenin who introduced the concept of an intellectual vanguard guiding the unpoliticised masses. Revolutionary socialism inspired global movements against oppression, especially in anti-colonial struggles. Socialist revolutions also occurred in China and Cuba, with mixed outcomes that left some socialists disillusioned. 

Marx’s idea that the state would ‘wither away’ proved wrong; in fact, very authoritarian states — replacing capitalism with a collectivized economy — often resulted in a lack of respect for civil rights and restrictions on the media and opposition groups. To protect the revolution from its enemies, new governments felt that they needed to be as disciplined and strong as the revolutionaries themselves had been. Today revolutionary socialism is much less relevant, linked to the failure of the USSR and the collapse of communism in 1989/90. 

The masses may not all understand at first the benefits of socialism. They will therefore need a period of forced re-education in an authoritarian regime — for example, the dictatorship of the proletariat in Marxist terminology