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Soviet civilization as alternative modernity

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Soviet cogitations: 216
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 27 Jul 2013, 05:04
Ideology: Other Leftist
Pioneer
Post 24 Sep 2013, 21:45
Did the Soviet Union represent a distinct form of modernity separate from Western liberal capitalism? If so, what were its defining features versus the West? The most obvious differences would be in the sphere of economics but I am also interested in things such as culture, interpersonal relationships, and other “soft” factors besides the economy.
Loz
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Soviet cogitations: 11879
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 06 Dec 2009, 23:17
Philosophized
Post 01 Oct 2013, 22:30
The main motto of the Soviet Union, the main driving force throughout its existance was to "reach and overtake capitalism". Lenin often talked about the need to at least reach the general level of culture of the developed capitalist countries. I don't think that such a concept makes much sense.
Did Japan or France represent a distinct form of modernity separate from Western liberal capitalism? Not really, although of course each country has its own cultural and other peculiarities.
Throughout its lifetime the USSR and its people only became, i'd say, more and more similar to the "West" in general, while still of course developing its own distinct culture, as some even call it, "Soviet civilization" . That was of course a good thing.
Soviet cogitations: 216
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 27 Jul 2013, 05:04
Ideology: Other Leftist
Pioneer
Post 03 Oct 2013, 07:01
Loz wrote:
The main motto of the Soviet Union, the main driving force throughout its existance was to "reach and overtake capitalism". Lenin often talked about the need to at least reach the general level of culture of the developed capitalist countries. I don't think that such a concept makes much sense.
Did Japan or France represent a distinct form of modernity separate from Western liberal capitalism? Not really, although of course each country has its own cultural and other peculiarities.
Throughout its lifetime the USSR and its people only became, i'd say, more and more similar to the "West" in general, while still of course developing its own distinct culture, as some even call it, "Soviet civilization" . That was of course a good thing.


Thank you for the reply. I have read that as the USSR became more developed the more "Western" it became. But the economic differences between liberal capitalism and the planned Soviet economy must have been significant enough to consider Soviet communism as an alternative to liberal modernity. For example, I cannot imagine living under a system of guaranteed employment, it would have made social relations so different (for the better, in my view). I am just saying that, as an American, it seems like such an alien concept.

As large as the cultural differences are between, say, Japan and America, the average Japanese worker and the average American worker often suffer from similar problems. However, the experience of the average Soviet citizen must have been much different because of the way the Soviet economy was organized.
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 07 Oct 2004, 22:04
Ideology: Marxism-Leninism
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Post 03 Oct 2013, 08:16
Kurginyan has called Soviet civilization alternative modernity precisely because socialism was a modern alternative to capitalist forms of political and socioeconomic organization. Others have called Russia, especially in the Soviet period, 'an alternative West', as opposed to 'the East'. After all, socialism is a Western, European idea. I would say that economics was the key difference between Soviet civilization and that of the West -the superstructure from which all other relations sprung. Of course the importance of local circumstances and the fusion of Russian customs and culture with these modern philosophical ideas should be noted here, primarily to understand the historically peculiarities of Soviet-style socialism, its successes and failures.
"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.: 18 Apr 2010, 04:44
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Philosophized
Post 04 Oct 2013, 02:28
I would consider the general vision of the Soviet Union to have been a competing version of the present, rather than a competing version of the future. Locked in mortal combat with the Western imperialist powers as it was, the USSR could really only speculate about the future in terms of overcoming its enemies and emerging victorious to make plans in that very contingent future. It seems to me that the golden goal of "Communist utopia" was always a hazy Will O' the wisp even in Lenin's writings, so I think the main emphasis of Soviet practical planning was always rooted in the possibilities present to hand.
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.: 27 Jul 2013, 05:04
Ideology: Other Leftist
Pioneer
Post 04 Oct 2013, 03:17
soviet78,

Yes, I was actually prompted to write this post after reading some of Kurginyan’s writings on Soviet civilization. The topic of the Soviet Union as a distinct form of modern civilization does not seem to come up very often in general discourse, which is odd because it was probably history’s most successful attempt at developing a non-liberal capitalist form of modern industrial civilization.

Comrade Gulper,

That is a very good point and that is why the dissolution of the USSR was such a disaster for working people all around the globe. The USSR was a huge superpower with global influence. In the present, it served as a counterweight to capitalist imperialism. The looming presence of the Soviet Union may have also served to influence capitalist governments to give more concessions to working people at home to “buy” their loyalty.
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 01 Nov 2003, 13:17
Ideology: Other
Forum Commissar
Post 05 Oct 2013, 13:53
It may be possible to argue that the Soviet Union because it isolated Russia and the peoples who comprised the Russian Empire, it allowed for a unique and insulated cultural entity to develop. European countries which were not especially Western like Finland underwent heavy Westernisation and are now fully Westernised societies. Because of the isolation from Western cultural developments the Slavic, Finno-Ugric, Uralic, Caucasus, Turkic and Siberian peoples of the Russian and later Soviet state were able to develop something different and unique without outside influence. Therefore unlike Finland which became a fully Western country, the Soviet lands did not become Western and remained a parallel cultural and political zone.

The Eastern Slavic and Orthodox character of the Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian peoples as well as the Islamic and Turkic, Caucasian and other character of the Muslim peoples meant that the majority of the ethnic groups of the Russian Empire were never a part of Western civilisation even before 1917. While there did exist elements which more or less belonged nominally or were on the border of Western civilisation like Poland, the Baltic states and Finland, the vast majority of the Russian Empire was not. It is also important not to forget about the existence of other non-Western peoples like the Finno-Ugric and Uralic peoples. The cultural and political isolation which Russia experienced from 1917 onward through the Soviet Union meant that these peoples were shielded from Westernisation. Of course this is not to say that there was not Russian influence in place of Western influence upon the non-Russian nationalities of the USSR.

I would even dare say that countries like Korea, Taiwan and Japan were far more Westernised than the former Soviet Union at the time of its collapse in 1991.

Was the Soviet Union an alternative modernity? It is hard to determine because to what extent must an alternative modernity be different from the Western modernity?
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 07 Oct 2004, 22:04
Ideology: Marxism-Leninism
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Post 05 Oct 2013, 14:55
Well put, PI, I completely agree. I think that up to 1917, Russia remained somewhat separate from the West despite being part of the global capitalist system because it had the strength to remain semi-independent from Western capital and political control (unlike say the European colonies all around the world), and because the information age had not yet dawned upon humanity. After the collapse of the USSR, Westernization flooded the former Soviet space, and for a time it seemed as if a strong local culture was gone forever (as in countries such as Japan and Korea). Still, now that some time has passed, I think that the fire of local culture, thought to have been extinguished 20 years ago, has just lain dormant all this time, ready to make a comeback. Russia will never again throw off the cultural influence of the West; it is too strong and well-funded (and not altogether bad either). Still, I believe that there is a chance in the future for a resurgence of local culture, and the elimination of at least the worst elements of Western culture from the Russian socio-cultural space. I believe this because the Russian muzhik has a historical tendency to only take so much bullshit before he rises up and throws off his oppressor. Other countries of the FSU have a similar shot; what it takes is a populace that is willing and able to force its political, economic and socio-cultural elites to stand up and defend the local, rather than sycophanticly sucking up to the foreign.
"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
Soviet cogitations: 216
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 27 Jul 2013, 05:04
Ideology: Other Leftist
Pioneer
Post 05 Oct 2013, 15:20
Political Interest,

I am not sure how different an alternative modernity would have to be from Western modernity but as for the USSR, I can think of a few factors that, for me, tip the scale in favor of designating the Soviet Union as an alternative modernity.

1. A centrally planned economy instead of a market economy.

2. State-ownership of the means of production

3. Real full employment- no labor market in the typical capitalist sense of the term.

4. No liberal political and legal order. Westerners would call this "lack of democracy and rule of law" but I know that can be seen as a biased way to frame the issue.

5. A relative lack of consumerism and modern advertising/ "sales effort" industry.

6. A more socially conservative official ideology, i.e. more censorship, ban on pornography, official pro-natalism, greater public support for high culture among the masses, etc.

7. Collectivism emphasized over individualism.

I may have mischaracterized Soviet civilization as I am far from an expert on it, but these factors seem to be large enough to indicate a civilization that is fundamentally different from that of the West and other capitalist countries (I would agree that the advanced countries of East Asia are in many respects closer to the West than the USSR was). The economic factors are probably the most significant. Much of daily life in capitalist states is dominated by the constant fear of unemployment and poverty. This was not present in the USSR.
Loz
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 06 Dec 2009, 23:17
Philosophized
Post 05 Oct 2013, 20:22
Quote:
It may be possible to argue that the Soviet Union because it isolated Russia and the peoples who comprised the Russian Empire, it allowed for a unique and insulated cultural entity to develop.

Soviet Union wasn't isolated from the world the way f. ex. North Korea is today even under the worst days of Stalinism. The Soviet bureaucracy at least put up a show of internationalism.

Quote:
Because of the isolation from Western cultural developments the Slavic, Finno-Ugric, Uralic, Caucasus, Turkic and Siberian peoples of the Russian and later Soviet state were able to develop something different and unique without outside influence. Therefore unlike Finland which became a fully Western country, the Soviet lands did not become Western and remained a parallel cultural and political zone.

Marxism is a Western idea. There would have been no Soviet Union without Bolsheviks who were Russian Marxists. Lenin, Trotsky et cetera all spent a lot of time in exile and were always active in the international communist/socialist movement.
Anyway Finland was under Sweden for most of its history, then under the Russian Empire.

Quote:
The Eastern Slavic and Orthodox character of the Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian peoples as well as the Islamic and Turkic, Caucasian and other character of the Muslim peoples meant that the majority of the ethnic groups of the Russian Empire were never a part of Western civilisation even before 1917.

Still, the logic of capitalism meant that the Russian Empire would have eventually been "Westernized", something the Bolsheviks only sped up after the revolution.




Quote:
I believe this because the Russian muzhik has a historical tendency to only take so much bullshit before he rises up and throws off his oppressor.

The Russian muzhik is an atavism. It's only thanks to the Bolsheviks that the communists made the peasantry switch to the side of the revolution.
Muzhiks should have finally disappeared by the 50s-60s. Unfortunately the "new Soviet man" wasn't much better.


IMO it doesn't matter what's "local" and what's "foreign". What matters is what is objectively progressive.
We're not in 1996 anymore. In 20 years this Soviet/Russian nationalism hasn't achieved anything. It's time to move on.
Soviet cogitations: 2407
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 01 Nov 2003, 13:17
Ideology: Other
Forum Commissar
Post 06 Oct 2013, 11:00
soviet78 wrote:
Well put, PI, I completely agree. I think that up to 1917, Russia remained somewhat separate from the West despite being part of the global capitalist system because it had the strength to remain semi-independent from Western capital and political control (unlike say the European colonies all around the world), and because the information age had not yet dawned upon humanity. After the collapse of the USSR, Westernization flooded the former Soviet space, and for a time it seemed as if a strong local culture was gone forever (as in countries such as Japan and Korea). Still, now that some time has passed, I think that the fire of local culture, thought to have been extinguished 20 years ago, has just lain dormant all this time, ready to make a comeback. Russia will never again throw off the cultural influence of the West; it is too strong and well-funded (and not altogether bad either). Still, I believe that there is a chance in the future for a resurgence of local culture, and the elimination of at least the worst elements of Western culture from the Russian socio-cultural space. I believe this because the Russian muzhik has a historical tendency to only take so much bullshit before he rises up and throws off his oppressor. Other countries of the FSU have a similar shot; what it takes is a populace that is willing and able to force its political, economic and socio-cultural elites to stand up and defend the local, rather than sycophanticly sucking up to the foreign.


Thank you, Soviet78. It is important to say that this is not my original analysis or concept. It is something you will see articulated by many Russian intellectuals. If I recall there is an argument made by Russian Eurasianists that the USSR like the Mongol Empire isolated Russia from the Western civilisation.

I fully agree with your analysis. Russia was always an independent bloc of its own and always had its own economic and political sphere. This was something similar to the other empires of the era like the British Empire, French Empire and Spanish Empire. The difference is that Russia's empire was mostly land based while these European empires were connected to the coloniser by sea. Because the information age had not started peoples and cultures could more culturally autonomous than they can now.

An important case in point with regard to this is that Russia in itself was separate from Western civilisation and so this lack of cultural influence from the West due to there being no information age meant that this unique non-Western character could be preserved. Perhaps Germany, France and Poland would not be so easily influenced by England or by each other, but each was still in the sphere of European and Western civilisation. Russia was something like China or the Ottoman Empire. Or perhaps I am simply too influenced by Eurasianist perceptions of Russian identity?

In my opinion it is a real possibility for Russia to preserve its culture and civilisation intact. This can be done if Russians have a sense of themselves and of who they are and what they believe as a nationality. Of course from what I have heard speaking to Russians and seen coming out of this country it appears that they do have this. If they are conscious of their desire to preserve their identity and unique values and prevent Westernisation then it is certain they can do so. Westernisation will only happen if they accept it. The reason why many Asian countries became so Westernised was because they accepted this process and did not do enough to stop it. While some conservative elements may have opposed Westernisation the greater majority of the populations in countries like Korea and Japan did not and still do not. Nevertheless these two countries are not fully Westernised and still retain much of their unique and individual characteristics. However Westernisation is an ongoing project and no doubt it will continue to influence and change the native cultures of the world. A case in point is that South Korea becomes increasingly more like the West as the years go by. Interestingly enough China like the Soviet Union was able to isolate itself from Westernisation from 1949 until the 1980s when it began accepting such influences. Today it is still significantly less Western than those East Asian countries that were early to accept such a process. Yet again though, China is changing.

Piccolo wrote:
Political Interest,

I am not sure how different an alternative modernity would have to be from Western modernity but as for the USSR, I can think of a few factors that, for me, tip the scale in favor of designating the Soviet Union as an alternative modernity.

1. A centrally planned economy instead of a market economy.

2. State-ownership of the means of production

3. Real full employment- no labor market in the typical capitalist sense of the term.

4. No liberal political and legal order. Westerners would call this "lack of democracy and rule of law" but I know that can be seen as a biased way to frame the issue.

5. A relative lack of consumerism and modern advertising/ "sales effort" industry.

6. A more socially conservative official ideology, i.e. more censorship, ban on pornography, official pro-natalism, greater public support for high culture among the masses, etc.

7. Collectivism emphasized over individualism.

I may have mischaracterized Soviet civilization as I am far from an expert on it, but these factors seem to be large enough to indicate a civilization that is fundamentally different from that of the West and other capitalist countries (I would agree that the advanced countries of East Asia are in many respects closer to the West than the USSR was). The economic factors are probably the most significant. Much of daily life in capitalist states is dominated by the constant fear of unemployment and poverty. This was not present in the USSR.


Maybe it was an alternate modernity then? Because everything about it seemed to be different from the Western system as you said. However to me an alternate modernity would look like something completely different to what we see today. The USSR was a different economic and political system with a different cultural basis but it seems to have been part of the same reality and essential world in which it existed. When I imagine alternate modernity I conceive of something completely different, beyond political and economic systems or unique cultural values to instead a world which is in complete contrast and completely distinct to the default modernity.

Loz wrote:
Soviet Union wasn't isolated from the world the way f. ex. North Korea is today even under the worst days of Stalinism. The Soviet bureaucracy at least put up a show of internationalism.


I see. My thought was that in the Soviet Union while people did have access to Western cultural products and influences there was heavy censorship and people were far more exposed to domestic popular culture than outside ones. My understanding is that this was to an extent much greater than in Europe where while people in Germany may have had their own cultural products and consumed domestic German popular and folk culture, they were still highly exposed to American society in a way the Soviet peoples were not. This would also extend to the realm of ideas and social opinions.

Loz wrote:
Marxism is a Western idea. There would have been no Soviet Union without Bolsheviks who were Russian Marxists. Lenin, Trotsky et cetera all spent a lot of time in exile and were always active in the international communist/socialist movement.
Anyway Finland was under Sweden for most of its history, then under the Russian Empire.


Marxism is a Western idea but the Soviet Union was a Marxist-Leninist state made of non-Westerners. The Bolsheviks took the political doctrine from Europe but it is a possibility that this did not mean there would be Westernisation of Russia.

Loz wrote:
Still, the logic of capitalism meant that the Russian Empire would have eventually been "Westernized", something the Bolsheviks only sped up after the revolution.


Maybe the Bolsheviks tried to Westernise the Soviet peoples but it seems they were unsuccessful. There were many Westernisations but they never made Russia a Western country.
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Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 16 Jul 2014, 21:53
Ideology: Other Leftist
Pioneer
Post 17 Jul 2014, 00:11
Modernity is created by economic factors.

What differenciates one country from another are cultural left-overs from older.

So, basically, socialism in URSS is not only a form of "modernity" (i dont lack that term) but an specific form of socialism, tied to specific heritage from former russian empire.

For example, russian empire wasnt democratic, neither soviet union, nor current Russian state.

It is democratic pro forma, but it is still years from being a true ocidental democracy.
Soviet cogitations: 108
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 14 Feb 2014, 12:33
Pioneer
Post 21 Jul 2014, 10:39
yes, socialist modernity is different from capitalist modernity, considering that they are trying to establish a different form of society. However, there also existed a vision of social democratic modernity, but that developed (or became synonymous with the liberal vision; there was a convergence between the two in most countries). The Chinese are still talking about this; socialist modernity, socialist civilization, and so on (its even on WP, see Ideology of the Communist Party of China).
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