It’s woeful how many self-declared socialists do the capitalists’ work for them by repeating, word for word, exactly what the capitalists want said about the Soviet Union. There definitely are honest criticisms to be made, but none of them are “Authoritarianism! Totalitarianism! He killed X0 million of his own people!”
Even anarchists need a nuanced evaluation of the Soviet Union, and of the Maoist PRC, and this is why: it was *mass movements* that put the Soviet and Chinese revolutionary governments in place.
If they think the masses were just these dumb, unwitting hordes, what does that say about the masses’ ability to create any kind of new society, regardless of the method? Why did the masses believe a party was the right way to go? How did the masses fail to correct the problems that sprung up when they did? Why did the masses support such obviously “authoritarian” parties? If they don’t trust the masses, they aren’t actually socialists. So they should at least have *some* clue what the masses were up to in the Soviet Union and why they supported the Bolsheviks, and why the Chinese people supported the Chinese Communist Party.
Saying “that revolution was irredeemably bad because of parties and Stalin was a monster” actually slanders the masses. This hurts their cause even if they are anti-vanguardist.
What anarchists need to explain *just like any other socialists* is how and why the Soviet Union’s specific problems cropped up. They can’t just look at it and say “parties are bad”—that’s unscientifc and counterproductive. Even if anarchists somewhere win without a party, they will face similar problems to the ones the Soviet Union and the PRC faced: they will have to rebuild in a war-torn economy; they will have to deal with the fact that they are trying to build an entirely new type of society in an area that, undoubtedly, was one of the poorest in the world. They will have to contend with incredibly powerful imperialist-capitalist powers trying to undermine them from without and within, with tanks, bombs, sanctions, blockades, spies, and sabotage—ceaselessly. And in fact, in the middle of all this chaos, they will also have to deal with hundreds of thousands if not millions of reactionaries, across the country and in all sorts of positions of power and influence, trying to destroy the new order, both subtly and overtly.
On top of all that, if they find even the slightest amount of hierarchy necessary in managing all this, they will find that the contradictions between those doing the managing and those being managed will tend to have a bourgeoisifying effect on *some* percentage of those doing the managing, so they will have to struggle to keep their proletarian apparatuses genuinely proletarian.
They are shooting themselves in the foot if they think the problems the Soviet Union faced wouldn’t apply to any postrevolutionary society that had come into existence through an anarchist revolution. They need real understanding, real analysis, and basically just a straight-up willingness to engage with *reality* if they want to build a new world.
This is how to evaluate the Soviet Union: