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Was Russia really such a bad place to build Socialism?

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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 28 Jan 2008, 19:10
Ideology: Marxism-Leninism
Komsomol
Post 05 Aug 2013, 20:45
A common theme among both bourgeois historians and many post-Marxists, is that Communism triumphed in the wrong place. That Marx intended for Revolution to break out in advanced Britain or Germany and instead it was backward Russia and IE Russian Communism was doomed from the start. That Lenin had made the wrong revolution, and Stalin and his successors tried to get around this brute reality and inevitably failed in the end.

I'd like to challenge this vulgar techno-determinism from the POV of Geopolitics. From as early as Rousseau and Napoleon, there had been a recognition that Russia and America were destined to be the two great world powers. And its worth nothing that despite all of Russia's backwardness, she had still fought Napoleon's armies on equal terms, and even as late as the Crimean War could still stand up against the advanced Anglo-French armies and in 1877 nearly overran the Balkans.

When it is said Russia was the wrong country, it is implied that somewhere else was the right country.

But where?

Most of 'advanced' Western Europe was still largely agrarian and peasant-based with admittedly more urbanization than Czarist Russia but not the heavy industry of a Great Power. France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Austria etc. As early as 1850, Engels had recognized that a Socialist France would not have been able to stand up to the united military power of Old Europe as in 1793. It is true that the Latin countries were further along industrialization than Russia, but they would have neither the interior depths, abundant natural resources and population to serve as the raw material for socialist primitive accumulation.

So really when its said that the Revolution should have happened in the West, what is really meant is UK, USA or Germany. Now I'll grant the USA, but the UK and Germany are more debatable.

While the UK was the 3rd greatest industrial power, its real strength came not from its European position, but its Colonial position. And its questionable how applicable this would have been to a Socialist Empire. Assuming the colonies were not granted independence for ideological anti-imperialist reasons, and a Socialist British Commonwealth was aimed for, there is good reason that a Red UK would have faced the same breakaway problems the USSR did in 1918, but on a far larger scale. The USSR failed to hang onto Poland, Baltics, and Finland, the most advanced areas, despite the close geographical proximity and cultural ties. How much more difficult would have been the world British Empire?

Unlike the French, the British did not attempt to revolutionize the cultures of its colonies and instead maintained a token force to facilitate the exploitation carried under the noses of its comprador puppets. One of the strongest incitements to colonial revolts was when colonial 'idealists' would attempt to spread Liberalism and Christianity against traditional culture.

How loyal would the White Settler Dominion states of Canada, Australia and South Africa have been, especially with the option of siding with the USA?

That leaves Germany, which had the advantage of one of the most advanced industrialized and educated proles in the world. But OTOH would have faced complete strategic encirclement by major powers by both land and sea, with the deep interior lines of Russia to retreat into.

Russia was the only Western nation that directly bordered the colonial Eastern lands, and so could help spread revolution to China and Asia, without having to rely on Naval power.

Russia being the largest nation on Earth, with rich natural resources and the largest population in Europe and a strategic interior position across the Eurasian landmass, actually helped carry Marxism into Superpower status. And to me, it is questionable whether any of the more advanced W.Euro states could have done any better.
Kamran Heiss
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 18 Apr 2010, 04:44
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Philosophized
Post 05 Aug 2013, 21:41
It's a very, very difficult question to answer. On the one hand, you may be right about Russia being, for various reasons, the most logical place in the world at that time for Marxism to triumph.

On the other hand, why did it fail? The collapse certainly didn't come solely from external sources, but predominantly from within. Why did Marxism perish in the USSR while capitalism reached the highest stage of imperialism in the West? Why is Putin enacting legislation that puts the Church, the Cossacks, and the Boyar Oligarchs right back in their old accustomed positions of exploitation?

Part of the reason may well have been that capitalism was so strongly entrenched in the Western states because it had been born there, as a natural stage in the evolution of the means of production. Thus, ugly as it is, it is part of the "blood and soul" of the Western people, essentially the religion that binds them together.

Russia, on the other hand, came from the medieval era straight into the 20th century, with no buffers and transitions along the way. Lenin rightly saw that the capitalist stage of production could be halted in its tracks, and leap frogged over, because it was precisely at its weakest stage, i.e., its infancy.

Unfortunately, the Western world didn't grind to a halt to accommodate this transition. The wheels of imperialism churned on, and delivered Hitler fresh off the conveyor belt. To unite all of Russia, which was only a generation away from the bad old days of Tsarism, Stalin had to make peace with the remaining elements of reaction. Unfortunately, they were there all the while, biding their time. 45 years later, in 1991, they had their revenge.

Only now, at the highest apex of Western imperialism, are we beginning to catch glimpses of its inevitable decay. In the end, when all means of acquisition and expansion are exhausted, the rich will turn on each other in a cannibalistic feeding frenzy. The triumph of Socialism may only be possible when the capitalist world is reduced to ashes, either by external assault or (far more likely) internal collapse.
Miss Strangelove: "You feed giants laxatives so goblins can mine their poop before the gnomes get to it."
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 30 Aug 2008, 18:12
Party Member
Post 07 Aug 2013, 18:52
I think that Russia was always on the back foot under socialism. This is because it was born with a huge contradiction: ideologically they claimed to be superior to capitalism, but materially they were inferior to capitalism. Since materialism tends to govern people's minds (afterall, you can't eat ideology) there was always the pressure to catch up with the material standards of the developed capitalist countries. Now while the USSR did make huge strides in industrialisation and in improving the people's livelihoods, they were always behind the West in terms of living standards (especially in things like consumer goods). This plus the increased burden of having to fork our for an arms race meant that this contradiction became more and more acute as time wore on. By the end, people wondered what the point of socialism was when developed capitalism was obviously more prosperous.

Developed capitalist countries stand the best chance of developing proper and prosperous socialism because they have a huge industrial infrastructure and the vast majority of their population are proletarians (not peasants who are traditionally not a very revolutionary class). In today's welfare states the people in developed capitalist countries are increasingly better educated than their forebears thus meaning they are better equipped to take the reigns of both economic and political power in a socialist society. What is stopping them from doing this is the material bribes paid to them out of imperialist super-profits as well as the ideological campaign waged against them in favour of capitalism.
Loz
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 06 Dec 2009, 23:17
Philosophized
Post 08 Aug 2013, 00:37
I agree.
Also, the Soviets at least during Stalin had a peculiar way of dealing with whatever capitalist relations there were, by police methods, which is completely ridiculous considering how socialist enterprises ( just like the capitalist big industry outperforms small aritisans etc. ) should have made most of that redundant, but the huge Soviet farms couldn't even compete with grandmothers with half an acre of a garden in something as simple as making potatoes. The state and collective farms, if they delivered any products to the markets at all, often had a good portion of their produce simply gone bad. Making sure that your potatoes don't freeze isn't rocket science but Soviet people still often had to resort to the private market to get decent goods, even the basic ones like vegetables that weren't rotten. Obviously that's a systemic problem that isn't solved by arresting people for selling home-made cookies in their free time, something that was a crime until the 50s.
That is unless you actually want to have a complete state monopoly on everything in order to further exploit the working and other classes, perhaps something comparable to those "company-stores" from the early days of capitalism but on a national scale.
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 28 Jan 2008, 19:10
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Komsomol
Post 08 Aug 2013, 04:43
My point while taking into account material-economic factors was more focused on the geopolitical military survival of any Socialist State in 1918 and after, although admittedly military power is ultimately based on technological development.

IMHO most of Western Europe would not have been in a superior position to survive capitalist encirclement, hostility and potential invasion. Most of Latin Western Europe- France, Portugal, Spain, Italy,- while far more industrialized than Russia, where still largely agrarian societies, without the large-scale heavy industry of UK, USA, Ger. And situated closer to the hostile Western Imperialist powers, with less space to retreat into, I think any Marxist revolution there would have had an even more difficult time surviving.

Even the UK and Germany, the most advanced W.Europe industrialized states would have faced their own difficulties. Germany of complete strategic encirclement, without the possibility of retreating into the interior like Russia, nor influenced events in the Third World without a navy. And British power was heavily dependent on the colonial empire, and transforming that into a Socialist Federation, would have been a far, far, more difficult task than the USSR.

The sheer vastness in size, population, and resources, and relative distance from the centers of Western reaction, made Russia in some ways one of the best possibly places in the world to build Socialism in 1918.

Judging strategically, the USA certainly would have been better, and Germany and Britain probably so, but other than that, I see few other countries in the world that would have been better able to survive and expand Socialism in 1918.
Kamran Heiss
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 07 Oct 2004, 22:04
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Resident Soviet
Post 08 Aug 2013, 19:01
So many excellent ideas in this thread; I agree with virtually everything everyone's said -very interesting take on things heiss. Adding to what Order said about capitalism being the 'blood and soul' of Western Europe, I would argue (and so does Sergei Kara-Murza in his book "Russian Communism: Theory, Practice, Goals" that revolution won out in Russia precisely because communist ideas existed in Russia long before the revolution, in the form of primitive communism. It's not for no reason that social democratic, socialist, anarchist and communist tendencies mushroomed so quickly in the late 19th century, and it's not just attributable to Czarist despotism and injustices. Russia's communist 'blood and soul' is what has prevented the market from completely winning over the country, and it's what gives hope for return to socialism here, in my view.
"The thing about capitalism is that it sounds awful on paper and is horrendous in practice. Communism sounds wonderful on paper and when it was put into practice it was done pretty well for what they had to work with." -MiG
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 27 Jul 2013, 05:04
Ideology: Other Leftist
Pioneer
Post 17 Aug 2013, 16:35
soviet78 wrote:
So many excellent ideas in this thread; I agree with virtually everything everyone's said -very interesting take on things heiss. Adding to what Order said about capitalism being the 'blood and soul' of Western Europe, I would argue (and so does Sergei Kara-Murza in his book "Russian Communism: Theory, Practice, Goals" that revolution won out in Russia precisely because communist ideas existed in Russia long before the revolution, in the form of primitive communism. It's not for no reason that social democratic, socialist, anarchist and communist tendencies mushroomed so quickly in the late 19th century, and it's not just attributable to Czarist despotism and injustices. Russia's communist 'blood and soul' is what has prevented the market from completely winning over the country, and it's what gives hope for return to socialism here, in my view.


I agree. I have seen the obshchina or mir (peasant commune) and the Orthodox Christian theory of sobornost, which places cooperation above individualism, cited as examples of proto-communism from pre-Soviet Russia.

Regarding the West, I agree with what gRed Britain stated about bribes. Most workers in the West are getting a bad deal out of neoliberalism but because of the immense wealth of the West built up over centuries (the West had a "head start" over other regions of the world when it came to economic development) they can still engage in consumerism.

However, things are getting worse and it is becoming harder to maintain the "middle-class" lifestyle of "Golden Age" post-war Western capitalism. More Westerners are now forced to send multiple family members out to work in order to bring home wages, while in the post-war "Golden Age" it was not uncommon for only one breadwinner to be necessary for a middle-class lifestyle. Workers are working more hours and taking on more debt to make up for stagnant wages and rising prices. The latest capitalist crisis has exposed many of these problems but in the West people cannot grasp an alternative besides maybe a return to post-war Keynesian capitalism.

Russia, on the other hand, has not only its pre-Soviet tradition but also an actual history of working socialism in the example of the USSR.
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 31 Jan 2014, 08:12
New Comrade (Say hi & be nice to me!)
Post 31 Jan 2014, 08:43
This is a fascinating discussion. It is true that the vast inequality of the British Empire essentially disqualifies England, the leader of industrialization, from being the locus. It would have required the British to forswear the massive wealth advantages they held relative to their colonies, which is outside the behavioral repertoire of human nature. Germany, the only other power of sufficient strength, would have been entirely surrounded, and could not possibly have survived. It was already nearing inevitable military defeat in 1917, and thus the massive "offense" of rejecting imperial capitalism could only have brought the massive warring armies, already in position, into the country.

It was perhaps this geopolitical vulnerability and attendant history of German containment by the "Concert of Europe" that made reactionary nationalism so strong in Germany - a kind of existential fear. Of course, this applies essentially to France, among the countries strong enough to be considered. Thus, Russia does seem the only place for the revolutionary trigger to be pulled. I don't recall this being the analysis of Lenin or anyone at the time. Rather, it was the preliminary stage of capital (the bourgeois revolution had not occurred) and the weakness of the monarchical-aristocratic ruling system that was the Marxist RSDLP analysis.

But in this forum there is a line of thought that somehow Russia was sufficiently developed for the classical Marxist analysis to occur, and I do not think this was the case at all. If we can all agree that "workers of the world, Unite!" was one of the very few, core contexts essential to this revolutionary conception, the discussion here might be a bit skewed. The pivot was then in Germany for a whole host of reasons and after the trigger in Russia the fate of post WWI socialism was essentially determined there. In January 1919, or in 1933, or in between. A host of consequences need to be considered, regarding internal developments in the USSR, if this contention is accepted: the most important of these concern the negativity toward socialism engendered in the West by the brutality employed for the survival of the Soviet Union and, arguably, the Stalin regime, whatever that was.

My biological analysis points toward another fundamental reason that Russia was the appropriate locus. The most advanced countries, most thriving on the spoils of imperialism, and all collectively sensing themselves as superior, were naturally disinclined to support the collectivist or cooperative worldview versus a competitive dominator worldview. A little Nietzsche applies here. At the same time, the truly downtrodden, colonized world was in no position to challenge for internationalist power. Russia was the closest actual power to a world mean, and thus strong enough, and psycho-biologically positioned to envision themselves - and I mean this fundamentally as a subconscious self-awareness - as leaders of a socialized, cooperative world.
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 28 Jan 2008, 19:10
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Komsomol
Post 22 Feb 2014, 05:09
lifesci wrote:

But in this forum there is a line of thought that somehow Russia was sufficiently developed for the classical Marxist analysis to occur, and I do not think this was the case at all. If we can all agree that "workers of the world, Unite!" was one of the very few, core contexts essential to this revolutionary conception, the discussion here might be a bit skewed. The pivot was then in Germany for a whole host of reasons and after the trigger in Russia the fate of post WWI socialism was essentially determined there. In January 1919, or in 1933, or in between. A host of consequences need to be considered, regarding internal developments in the USSR, if this contention is accepted: the most important of these concern the negativity toward socialism engendered in the West by the brutality employed for the survival of the Soviet Union and, arguably, the Stalin regime, whatever that was.

My biological analysis points toward another fundamental reason that Russia was the appropriate locus. The most advanced countries, most thriving on the spoils of imperialism, and all collectively sensing themselves as superior, were naturally disinclined to support the collectivist or cooperative worldview versus a competitive dominator worldview. A little Nietzsche applies here. At the same time, the truly downtrodden, colonized world was in no position to challenge for internationalist power. Russia was the closest actual power to a world mean, and thus strong enough, and psycho-biologically positioned to envision themselves - and I mean this fundamentally as a subconscious self-awareness - as leaders of a socialized, cooperative world.


On the topic of whether or not Russia (and other backward countries) could sustain 'classical marxist' revolutions, the thoughts of Amadeo Bordiga might be instructive, he believed that:

Quote:
Stalin, and later Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara etc. were "great romantic revolutionaries" in the 19th century sense, i.e., bourgeois revolutionaries. He felt that the Stalinist regimes that came into existence after 1945 were just extending the bourgeois revolution, i.e., the expropriation of the Prussian Junker class by the Red Army, through their agrarian policies and through the development of the productive forces.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadeo_Bordiga#Theories
http://libcom.org/library/communism-is- ... diga-today
Kamran Heiss
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