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Seven Myths about the USSR

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Post 07 Jan 2014, 04:04
Stephen Gowans has a very interesting blog piece entitled "Seven Myths about the USSR." It is a pretty succinct answer to seven of the more widespread myths about the USSR and the perceptions of the Soviet experience held by most citizens in the post-Soviet nations. ... -the-ussr/

Any thoughts, comrades?
Post 10 Jan 2014, 18:09
I enjoyed reading this.

Good to know others are still contesting the Propaganda excreted here in the West.

It's a tiring and frustrating experience doing so repeatedly but this article provides a succint grab bag of subjects that help shed light on the issues usually trotted out.

Should make future labours of clarity provision a little less dispiriting even if we are still using a pippette to bail out the Toxic Water cast by the bucket load from the apparratus in play against us.
Post 10 Jan 2014, 19:22
Great article; I've been learning lately about the many intelligent, erudite bloggers with a Leftist slant, in large part thanks to SE members posting these kinds of articles. Thanks Piccolo. This article is great, in large part because it's short and neat, summarizing and explaining very well the reasons why Russians have a positive view of socialism.

There is one point worth mentioning, which only adds to the credibility of the article. The 'Name of Russia' contest, where Stalin allegedly came in third, is accepted by most to have been thoroughly rigged. In the first weeks of voting, Stalin received so many votes that the organizers nervously decided to adjust the figures, claiming that internet Stalinists were finding ways to vote multiple times.
Last edited by soviet78 on 10 Jan 2014, 20:14, edited 1 time in total.
Post 10 Jan 2014, 20:09
Great article, except for the part the author explains why Trotskyists 'revile' the USSR (it probably has something to do with that river of blood more than envy). He also apparently isn't aware of the wealth of other communists opposed to the Stalinist USSR, such as left communists.
Post 10 Jan 2014, 20:34
When left communists accomplish anything people will start respecting them.
Post 10 Jan 2014, 22:38

Also Trotskyists don't "revile" the USSR. We revile the stalinist political regime that was the sad consequence of backwardness and isolation.
Post 10 Jan 2014, 23:03
I would hardly call the Spanish Civil War even a tiny victory for anybody involved. Unless you were a reactionary monarchist.

It is a sad fact that the USSR was technically isolated for so long and tended towards an involution of its political, social and economic mechanisms, but their achievements were something worth defending and worth shouting from the rooftops despite these circumstances. I have yet to meet a Trot IRL who would say that the achievements were pretty astonishing, and would defend it even at a push.
Post 10 Jan 2014, 23:05
That's because we never met when you lived in Germany.

But there's others like me, closer to your home. Here's some Ted Grant quotes, which are among the most rational characterizations of the USSR ever, which everybody from soviet78 to Conscript should be able to agree on:

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the Soviet planned economy maintained high rates of growth. The bureaucracy felt itself to be a progressive force. Its self-confidence was reflected in Khrushchev's speech at the 22nd Party Congress in 1961, when he boasted that the Soviet Union would overtake the USA in all fields within 20 years. The working class, despite all the crimes of the bureaucracy, was prepared to tolerate it temporarily because it was still playing a relatively progressive role in developing the productive forces.

The growth in living standards was achieved with virtually no inflation. Above all, the prices of basic necessities were kept low. Bread was so cheap that the peasants would feed it to their livestock instead of grain. A particularly important gain was low rents. Whereas a worker in the West spends anything between a third and a half of his wage on rent, the situation in the USSR was totally different. Out of a 200 rouble monthly wage, only 10 roubles a month went on rent, and this included hot water, central heating, and, at least in Moscow, free local phone calls. There was a completely free education and health service, no unemployment and a month's free holiday at resorts run by the trade unions. The Soviet Union probably had the best public transport system in the world, with extremely low fares--five kopecks for any distance in Moscow, for example.

However, despite these improvements, living standards still lagged behind those of at least the most advanced capitalist countries. The housing shortage remained serious. Living conditions for the great majority were still very cramped, and in many cases intolerably bad. One quarter of families shared a bathroom and/or kitchen. The workers no longer suffered from the privations of the earlier period. There was no real shortage, at least of the basic commodities. There were queues, of course, but eventually people got what they were waiting for. But the quality of the goods produced under the bureaucratic system was another matter. Trotsky already pointed out before the war that quality escaped the bureaucracy like an elusive phantom. The nearer the product stood to the consumer, as a rule, the poorer the quality. The lack of democratic control revealed itself most glaringly in the field of consumer goods. Above all in a society which claimed to have built "socialism", the material well-being of the population cannot be measured purely in terms of how much bread and potatoes are consumed, or, for that matter, how much meat and butter.

And these ones could just as well have been written by a stalinist:

From a Marxist point of view, the function of technique is to economise human labour. In the 50 year period from 1913 to 1963, the growth of productivity of labour in industry, the key index of economic development, advanced by 73 per cent in Britain and by 332 per cent in the USA. In the USSR, labour productivity rose in the same period by 1,310 per cent, although from a very low base. The periods of tremendous economic advance in Russia largely coincided with periods of crisis or stagnation in the capitalist West. The strides forward of Soviet industry in the 1930s coincided with the great slump and Depression in the capitalist world, accompanied by mass unemployment and chronic poverty. Between 1929 and 1933 American industrial production dropped 48.7 per cent. The American National Research League estimated the number of jobless in March 1933 was 17,920,000. In Germany there were more than six million unemployed. These comparisons alone show graphically the superiority of a planned economy over the anarchy of capitalist production.

In the former USSR, out of a population that grew by 15 per cent, the number of technicians had grown by 55 times; the numbers in full-time education by over six times; the number of books published by 13 times; hospital beds nearly ten times; children at nurseries 1,385 times. The number of doctors per 100,000 people was 205, as compared to 170 in Italy and Austria, 150 in America, 144 in West Germany, 110 in Britain, France and Netherlands, and 101 in Sweden. Life expectancy more than doubled and child mortality fell by nine times. Between 1955 and 1959 urban housing space (state and co-operative) more than doubled, while private space more than tripled in size. By 1970, the number of doctors had increased from 135,000 to 484,000 and the number of hospital beds from 791,000 to 2,224,000.

In the postwar period, without any Marshall Aid programme, the USSR made colossal advances on all fronts. Thanks to the nationalised economy and the plan, the Soviet Union rapidly built up its devastated industries, with growth rates of over 10 per cent. Alongside US imperialism, the USSR had emerged from the war as a world superpower. "World history knows nothing like it," states Nove. As early as 1953, the USSR had built up a stock of 1.3 million machine tools of all kinds - double what it had prewar. Between 1945 and 1960, steel production had grown from 12.25 million tons to 65 million tons. In the same period, oil production had risen from 19.4 million tons to 148 million tones, and coal from 149.3 million to 513 million. Between 1945 and 1964, the Soviet national income rose by 570 per cent, compared to 55 per cent in the USA. Let us not forget that the USA emerged from the war with its industries intact and two thirds of the world's gold in its vaults. In fact, it had benefited enormously from the war effort and was able as a result to impose its domination throughout the capitalist world.

Before the war the Soviet Union was still far behind not only the USA, but also Britain and Europe. Astonishingly, by the mid-1980s the USSR had overtaken Britain and most other capitalist economies, with the exception of the USA. At least in absolute terms, the USSR occupied the first position in many key fields of production, for example, in the production of steel, iron, coal, oil, gas, cement, tractors, cotton, and many steel tools. In the mid-1980s the Massachusetts Cambridge Engineering Research Association described the Soviet natural gas industry - which doubled production in less than ten years - as a "spectacular success story". (Financial Times, 14/11/85.) Even in the field of computers, where Russia in the 1970s was said to be ten years behind the West, the gap had been narrowed to a point where Western experts admitted it was only about 2-3 years. The most spectacular proof of the superiority of a planned economy, where it was run well, was the Soviet space programme. Since 1957 Russia had led the "space race". While the Americans landed on the moon, the Russians were building a space station that would take them to the far reaches of the solar system. As a byproduct, the Soviet Union was selling the cheap and reliable Proton rockets on world markets at a price some £10 million less than the European Ariane space project.

So as usual, your accusations against Trotskyism are quite baseless. Also let me say that "not praising the USSR enough" is hardly a serious accusation.
Post 10 Jan 2014, 23:59
Thanks to everybody for the kind words, I am glad this article was well received. Even if one is critical of certain aspects of the USSR, I think it is important for socialists to trumpet the successes of the Soviet system in order to defeat the “there is no alternative” or TINA argument that is one of the core foundations of neoliberalism. We must show that other systems have had historical success and are still popular not just because of nostalgia but because of concrete material factors.
Post 11 Jan 2014, 09:04
Mabool wrote:
Nearly every leftist and rightist ideology existed in Spain, but not left-communism.

As an aside, I always found the Trots extolling the economic achievements of USSR a bit dishonest, at least when it came to Trotsky himself declaring the Soviet economy "in danger" in the early 30s and calling for a revival of the kulaks among other things, only to turn around and extol the economic progress in The Revolution Betrayed. Then again Trots have a weird model wherein they can blame anything "bad" on a government on the existence of the "Stalinist bureaucracy," and anything "good" on "the gains of October" or it otherwise being a "degenerated" or "deformed workers' state."
Post 12 Jan 2014, 23:04
Pretty boring article, i feel like i've already read it all before. It'd be better if the focus was on some aspects of everyday life in the USSR or something.
And i don't care what Russians think about Stalin and what not, that's just not relevant.

Also Ismail, where did Trotsky call for the revival of kulaks?
Post 13 Jan 2014, 03:53
The article is boring to you because you've been a leftist for years; it's not boring to someone who's looking to learn more about Russia's communist past, or why, for example, Stalin remains so popular there today. Also, what Russians think about Stalin is very relevant, in that it paints a picture of contemporary Russian society worlds apart from anything a Russian liberal or some Western academic might say about it.
Post 13 Jan 2014, 04:48
What is endlessly worrying and depressing is that no middle ground ever seems to find favor in the old country. As much as I would gladly welcome a restoration of socialism in Russia, I'd like to think that it would come with some modern innovations (specifically less rigidly conservative in purely private affairs). Rehabilitating the Stalin years is one thing; reliving them note for note is quite another. On the other hand, I certainly don't think the majority of Russians are ready for a replay of the Wild West Yeltsin years, which is what these crazy Femen-camp "Westernizers" seem to have in mind.

Is compromise ever a possibility in Russia? Truly democratic Socialism with none of the old bourgeois conservatism?
Post 13 Jan 2014, 06:07
Also, what Russians think about Stalin is very relevant, in that it paints a picture of contemporary Russian society worlds apart from anything a Russian liberal or some Western academic might say about it.

I think liberalism is less reactionary than contemporary Russian "Stalinism" which is mostly hard-core nationalism and nostalgia for "the glorious past" of the miserable and bitter old-people crowd that has nothing to do with communism.

On the other hand, I certainly don't think the majority of Russians are ready for a replay of the Wild West Yeltsin years, which is what these crazy Femen-camp "Westernizers" seem to have in mind.

Russia is still a neoliberal dictatorship ruled by mobsters. Femen are fighting for freedom and human rights which isn't bad at all in my book.

Is compromise ever a possibility in Russia? Truly democratic Socialism with none of the old bourgeois conservatism?

Well judging by most Russian communists i'd say not yet.
Post 14 Jan 2014, 23:08
Loz wrote:
Also Ismail, where did Trotsky call for the revival of kulaks?

It was among the policies Trotsky claimed he'd implement if he was in charge: "The policy of mechanically 'liquidating the kulak' is now in effect discarded. A cross should be placed over it officially. And simultaneously it is necessary to establish the policy of severely restricting the exploiting tendencies of the kulak. With this goal in mind, the lowest strata of the villages must be welded together into a union of the peasant poor."
Post 13 Jan 2015, 04:21
Interesting read, I agree that the fall of the USSR was damaging to Russia. Although the points about Stalin being popular in contemporary Russia may have been influenced by the mass propaganda surrounding him throughout his time as leader.
Post 15 Jan 2015, 03:34
great lenin + 7 wrote:
Although the points about Stalin being popular in contemporary Russia may have been influenced by the mass propaganda surrounding him throughout his time as leader.
I don't think so, it's simply that nowadays Stalin has turned into a "national" icon, separate from ideology. He turned the USSR into a strong country and defeated Nazism.
Post 15 Jan 2015, 12:36
It must be said that Stalin is loved by Russians because he was a great war leader; the purges and industrialization process are widely criticized by the media. The Russian communists refer to him as a great war leader who built the country, but admit to great mistakes. If Stalin had not led the USSR through the war its safe to say he would have been detested. Opinion polls don't make sense if you don't explain the data behind it.
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