Can anyone recommend any books or articles that give and indepth Leftist analysis of the decline and fall of the USSR? Thanks
I'm interested in studying the historical evolution from a Hegelian historicist perspective as opposed to a mechanistic metaphysical way. By which I mean I'd like to examine the way in which the USSR as living organic body evolved from 1917-1991. Despite the claims of the Trotskyists and Maoists, there is a rough continuity between Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Gorbachev. The decisive break comes only with Yeltsin who openly stated he was no longer a Marxist or even a socialist. But even he should not be seen as dropping from the sky, but instead as representing genuine interests and ideological interests that had emerged within the Soviet system.
I found some useful articles here: http://freespace.virgin.net/pep.talk/TPexUSSR.htm
Chinese Communist Critiques of Soviet Society
Some Comments on Chinese Communist Critiques of Soviet Society by Tony Clark
A Reply to Tony Clark
Cold War: Soviet Threat Was a Myth
The CPSU Purges
Communist Workers and Peasants Party of Pakistan: The Long March the break up of the Soviet Union
Lenin and Peaceful Coexistence
Why Did The Soviet Union Collapse? Part 1
Why Did The Soviet Union Collapse? Part 2: The Chinese Communists on Socialist Development
Why Did The Soviet Union Collapse Part 1: Denounced by the "Communist" League!
A Reply to The Communist League
The Party Elite, Not the Masses Wanted Capitalism
The End of Socialism? The Triumph of Capitalism?
Theoretical History of the Russian Revolution
What Was the Soviet Union?
WHY DID THE SOVIET UNION COLLAPSE?
It is clear that the first wave of attempts to build socialism have been largely defeated. The dynamic of the Peoples Republic of China appears to be towards capitalism with ever larger areas of the country opened up to foreign trade and ‘internal’ market forces. The attempt to combat negative foreign influences, (AIDS, drugs, prostitution, corruption, unemployment, pornography, crime), many of which are themselves created by the opening up of the Chinese economy to market forces, by an increasingly authoritarian social control does not appear to be a viable long-term solution in maintaining social cohesion. North Korea, which anyway has always been a fairly uninspiring ‘barrack room socialism’, is fairly unstable and is causing problems for the Chinese as desperate refugees cross the border. Cuba has valiantly resisted the attempts of US imperialism to crush it, but cannot make any real progress and indeed remains extremely vulnerable to a restoration of capitalism without a radical, and somewhat unlikely, change in the international configuration of class forces.
I do not wish to engage in any detailed argumentation of what exactly is left among the ‘remnants’ of attempts at socialist construction, but merely wish to note that whilst communists could argue until the mid-90s that whilst we might be marginal to political life in Britain, nevertheless we were on the side of history we certainly cannot argue that now. This has had, and was bound to have had, repercussions for the left. Much of the old pro-Soviet left has fallen back on nostalgia whilst the Trotskyists, with the exception of the Spartacist tendency, have largely celebrated the demise of the Soviet bloc. "Communism is dead, long live socialism", as the Socialist Workers Party put it in one of their more thoughtful moments. The reduction of millions of the world’s population to penury and destitution causes the Trotskyists no loss of sleep if events can be manipulated to ‘prove’ their theory.
I have heard the collapse of the USSR minimised to a certain extent by comrades who point out that capitalism took 400 years to overthrow feudalism and that the implementation of socialism will be a long time project too. This is a complacently reassuring thought. A certain theoretical legitimacy can be found for this thesis in a certain interpretation of remarks made by both Mao and Chou En Lai. These comrades may indeed be correct on the question of timescale, although I can think of no one who was seriously arguing this before the collapse, but two obvious points strike one. Firstly, this appears to be an adaptation of the incorrect "socialism is historically inevitable" thesis, (if it is inevitable why is any revolutionary activity necessary?), with a more fatalistic version resting on a longer, and therefore even more unprovable, timescale. Secondly, whilst it may provide comfort to some it indicates absolutely no way forward for revolutionary activity in the present period. In many ways, it is a genuflection to historical despair.
The collapse of the Soviet Union is of tremendous theoretical importance in that it does pose the question of whether socialism is possible in concrete reality or it is simply a nice idea but totally impracticable as a social system. If such is the case, then, what we are doing now is absolutely irrelevant. Another point which has intruded most strongly into my own consciousness when looking at the Soviet Union is that a discussion of its creation and extinction raises just about every other question of concern to communists ranging through economics, politics history and culture.
PURPOSE OF THIS DOCUMENT
What I am attempting to do here is to condense down around five hundred pages of research data into a broad overview of why the USSR collapsed. I have tried to make it as accessible as possible and mainly concentrate on a relatively few important ideas rather than personalities. I am aware that by so doing I am leaving myself open to attack due to a certain looseness of approach. (Somebody out there has got the articles by Sweezy and Chattopadhyay on the nature of capitalism which, hey, I ‘forgot’ to mention, and don’t you need to know what capitalism is before you can talk about socialism?) But, that is all in the nature of a discussion document and if it raises as many questions as it purports to answer that will be a far from negative aspect.
It is impossible, in fact it is a major point which Marx makes about social science in terms of the observer being a part of the society themselves, to discuss the demise of the Soviet Union dispassionately as if it was nothing much to do with me. Like anyone else who saw the very existence of the Soviet Union as a force for historical progress, and maybe even used it as a political crutch on occasions, its collapse requires some somber thought.
Two popular reasons for the disintegration of the USSR need the most serious attention because, in my opinion, if they are correct it means that socialism in the future can probably be written off the historical agenda. What I term the ‘traitors thesis’ which distinguishes a revisionist tendency, starting openly with Nikita Khruschev, who were essentially ‘capitalist roaders’ bodes ill for any future revolution. In any revolution, I surmise, there will be leading personnel whom, for whatever reason, are not adequate to the task. If the revolution rests on a narrow social base it will always be extremely vulnerable to reverse and extinction. The building of socialism in such cases is probably impossible. The traitors thesis approaches the problem of the collapse of socialism in a non-Marxist way with explanations put forward in terms of the moral character of particular individuals and conspiracies entered into by such persons. Such explanations of the rise and triumph of revisionism in the International Communist Movement are essentially idealist. They unwittingly reproduce elements of bourgeois ideology because they imply that capitalism cannot be transcended because of inherent moral limitations in human beings and that therefore communism is an unattainable illusion.
Likewise, if the main reason for the failure of the Soviet Union was the encirclement by imperialism, then, the building of socialism is probably unrealisable. In the initial period and in this sense initial may mean a rather long period, of socialist construction the nascent socialist society will always be encircled by imperialism. If it is the case that external contradictions are paramount, then, again socialism is probably an impossible dream.
This is not to say, as is mentioned below, that a revisionist stratum in the Soviet leadership and imperialist encirclement were irrelevant in the end of the USSR. Both played important subsidiary roles. However, I want to argue the main contradictions facing the Soviet Union were internal rather than external.
It is necessary for anybody from the broadly pro-Soviet camp to look at the above two explanations more closely than they perhaps warrant in order to negate any element of wishful thinking. If either of them is substantially correct, socialism is off the menu for good.
REVISIONISM IN THE USSR: A NON-MATERIALIST VIEW
THE ‘TRAITORS THESIS’
One of the most retailed reasons amongst ‘Marxist-Leninists’ for the demise of the Soviet Union is the 'traitors thesis'. At its crudest, the traitors thesis argues that the USSR was on track for socialism until the death of Stalin when a group of traitors to socialism, who had managed to worm their way into the top echelons of the party, took control.
"The tragedy of the Second World War Period was that instead of men in the mould of Lenin and Stalin, it was Nikita Khruschev who became the leader of the Soviet Union and the international communist movement." (Majid, p.1)
Khruschev is said to have taken a "chosen path of capitulation to imperialism." (Majid, p.3) Why did he 'choose' this path: the reader will look in vain for any answer in this booklet, and indeed Khruschev's poor peasant origins appear totally unexceptional. (Majid, p.1) At bottom, the traitors thesis is a personalist and psychological account. It is a 'bad man' theory of history that has a similar methodology to the manner in which bourgeois history is taught in terms of the reign of wicked and beneficial King's and Queen's. What is required is a materialist analysis.
The traitors thesis leaves many questions unanswered. In particular, where did the traitors keep coming from? It is true that Stalin was well aware that many of the ruling elite had ideas alien to socialism, and that promotion within the bureaucracy could also be a step closer to the labour camp. However, this could only ever be an extremely arbitrary and short-term measure. Stalin used organisational means to attempt to deal with a recurring political problem. In any case, such a policy could only survive Stalin's lifetime, as it was reliant on Stalin's ruthlessness and prestige. The real question is: why were 'capitalist roaders' constantly produced and reproduced under a regime, which was supposed to be socialist? The point Majid does not account for, unless we believe that people like Khruschev were born capitalists, is how the regime of Lenin and Stalin socialised a whole social strata of whom Khruschev was a main representative?
It is understandable that in the initial period, when ‘bourgeois experts’, who to a greater or lesser extent were hostile to the 1917 revolution and its aims had to be employed many ‘traitors to socialism’ would be in position. However, Nikita Khruschev became secretary general to the Communist Party in 1953, thirty-six years after the revolution of 1917. Born near Kursk, the son of a miner, Khruschev fought in the post-Revolutionary civil war 1917–20, and in World War II organised the guerrilla defence of his native Ukraine. Again, hardly the curriculum vitae of a traitor. No, Khruschev, like probably the overwhelming majority of the Soviet leadership at the time, was an adherent to what Mao later calls ‘productive forces theory’, the idea that if sufficient progress was made on increasing the Soviet economy, then, socialism would be, more or less, an automatic result of this. The point is to look at why, so many years after the revolution, the system was still producing people such as Khruschev.
REVISIONISM IN GENERAL
Revisionism is not something that suddenly appeared at some point in the history of the international communist movement. Rather it has been present, in various forms, right from the beginnings of the international communist movement in the mid-nineteenth century. Marx and Engels opposed reformist elements in the German Social-Democratic Party, Lenin struggled against the Mensheviks, Stalin led the campaign against Trotsky and other defeatist elements in the CPSU, Mao battled against the Khrushchevites in the Soviet Union and the capitalist roaders in China
Revisionism is the denial of the necessity for the proletariat to bring about the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie; it is the denial of the necessity for the proletariat to exercise all-round dictatorship over the bourgeoisie; it is the denial of the necessity of protracted class struggle throughout the entire period of the socialist transformation of society. Revisionism is the form that bourgeois ideology takes on within the ranks of the revolutionaries, its material basis is, and this can hardly be overemphasised, the persistence of capitalist relations of production in society.
REVISIONISM IN THE SOVIET UNION: A MATERIALIST VIEW
Socialism is but the period of transition between capitalism and communism and so the basic contradiction remains the same as it was under capitalism: between the social organisation of production and the private ownership of the means of production. Under capitalism, it is the private ownership of the means of production that is the principal aspect of this contradiction but with the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the social organisation of production becomes principal.
In the early stages of socialism private ownership of the means of production remains not just in the form of private peasant plots and petty traders, but more importantly in the fact that the great mass of people do not directly exercise control over the means of production. Rather the communist party and the state apparatus controlled by it, do this on their behalf in the process which has come to be termed ‘substitutionalism’. In discussing ownership of the means of production, it is important to distinguish between de jure and de facto ownership. What really matters is not who nominally in law owns means of production, but rather who actually decides how means of production will be used and who receives what is produced. However, one should not over stress the direct aspect of control, especially in the initial stages of socialism as we then move on to the utopian terrain of council communism where only direct democracy will do.
It is inevitable that in the early stages of the dictatorship of the proletariat that only the most politically conscious section of the proletariat will be actively involved, through the agencies of the party and state, in the social organisation of production. However, unless increasingly wider sections of the masses come to genuinely participate in this process then the effective ownership of the means of production will remain in the hands of a few and thus be essentially private. Given that social being determines social consciousness these few will increasingly come to think and behave in ways characteristic of the bourgeoisie precisely because their objective position is that of the bourgeois, i.e. owning and controlling the chief means of production.
It is important to note that the aspects of the Tsarist state which made the Bolshevik take over of power possible also made it extremely difficult to proceed with the revolution. Bettelheim’s, very simplistic, view is the conventional perspective on 1917.
"The October insurrection put an end to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and established the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia. It thus enabled the proletariat to form itself into the dominant class in order to continue the revolution, carry out the tasks of the democratic revolution and take the first steps towards socialism." (Bettelheim, 1976, p.91)
However, in Bettelheim's passage, the very fact that he suggests that the proletariat's initial tasks must be to pursue the "tasks of democratic (i.e. bourgeois) revolution" implies the lack of, or at least an extreme immaturity of, the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie", which we are informed the working class has overthrown. By definition, this must have been an embryonic bourgeoisie, but what of the working class? One can surmise this as also being a nascent class, in that classes are social groupings operating in relation to each other.
The major dichotomy in the Russian situation was the existence of localised pockets of modern industry organised on capitalist lines and set among the general context of the absolutist Tsarist state structure. The working class was numerically tiny, and recently drawn from the peasantry but, but with some power bases.
Lane argues that the Tsarist government itself played a major role in the implementation of capitalism into Russia and exercised a correspondingly major degree of control over the embryonic bourgeois class.
"A modern economic system was largely 'imported' by the government, it did not grow out of an indigenous capitalist class - and that class was under the tutelage of the state. The political formations did not conform to a classical Marxist situation. The government, not the bourgeoisie played the dominant role in the industrial development of capitalism which in turn promoted the growth of the proletariat." (Lane, p.11)
It is important to stress 1917 as a ‘working class’ revolution with a small and embryonic working class because it explains a disposition which became ingrained, and which reinforced the effects of productive forces theory, for actions to be taken on behalf of the working class. In contrast to Bettelheim, and in general agreement with Lane, Anderson suggests a rather more complex interpretation of the revolutionary process in 1917.
"Tsarism in Russia outlived all its precursors and contemporaries, to become the only Absolutist State in the continent to survive intact in the 20th Century". (Anderson, p.328) The necessary consequence of this durability of the Tsarist regime for the Bolsheviks was that:
"The Russian Revolution was not made against a capitalist State at all. The Tsarism which fell in 1917 was a feudal apparatus: the Provisional Government never had time to replace it with a new or stable bourgeois apparatus". (Anderson, p.359)
The failure of the German (and Hungarian) revolutionary upsurges was not just momentous, as regards European history, but, much more directly, to the development of the Revolution in Russia itself. Productive forces theory ideally fitted the circumstances of an isolated revolution because without raising the level of productive forces all would be lost
Precisely due to the extremely adverse circumstances that conditioned the aftermath of 1917: civil war, economic disruption, famine, etc., the Bolshevik regime was forced to implement extremely repressive measures in order to maintain its rule. These measures tended to further narrow the social basis of the regime, which had already lost many of its best supporters, from a small initial pool, in the fighting. The suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion by the early Bolshevik regime was, in Trotsky's words, "a tragic necessity." (Lenin and Trotsky, 1978) The Bolsheviks had no choice; they had to recreate the working class. The new working class had to be drawn from the peasantry with its lack of craft narrowness, but also with its rural prejudices.
The inauspicious situation meant that many procedures had to be enacted in the early Soviet Union, which were inimical to the building of socialism. Productive forces theory was strongly represented in early positivist, (Second International), interpretations of Marxism and, as already mentioned, this tendency was reinforced by the pressing material circumstances. (Carchedi, 1987, pp.5-6)
It is quite clear with the benefit of hindsight, from the experiences in both the Soviet Union and China, that simply raising the level of productive forces without really revolutionising the relations of production is doomed to failure. In particular the masses have to be drawn into the real decision making processes in order to achieve the high level of political consciousness necessary for socialism to be built. The idea that the proletarian state is the bourgeois state turned on its head is entirely incorrect. The bourgeois state relies for its continued existence on only a narrow stratum of oppressors, whilst for its survival the proletarian state must undertake the massive task of bringing the mass of people to political consciousness. As Luxemburg puts it in a criticism of Lenin:
"Socialism in life demands a complete spiritual transformation in the masses degraded by centuries of bourgeois class rule. Social instincts in place of egotistical ones, mass initiative in place of inertia, idealism which conquers all suffering, etc., etc. No one knows this better, describes it more penetratingly, describes it more stubbornly than Lenin. But he is completely mistaken in the means he employs. Decree, dictatorial force of the factory overseer, draconic penalties, rule by terror – all these things are but palliatives. The only way to a rebirth is the school of public life itself, the most unlimited, the broadest democracy and public opinion. It is rule by terror which demoralizes." (Luxemburg, p.70)
There is a substantial element of truth but also a potential element of idealism in Luxemburg's analysis if taken in conjunctural terms. She is writing as if there was no Civil War and famine in the period (1918) on which she is commentating, when it is difficult to see how anyone could have ruled except by the exercise of force. Nevertheless, initial habits die hard and command methods remained when they were no longer necessary for the imminent survival of the Bolshevik regime. Luxemburg's analysis takes on an added relevance when we note that policies such as one-man management, piecework, and Taylorist work practices have no chance of drawing the masses into the 'public life' which she enumerates. Such practices decompose the working class and are bourgeois modes of labour organisation. (Sirianni, p.147)
That important opportunities were missed is illustrated by the extraordinary initial development of the Soviet economy, a development which cannot be explained in bourgeois economic terms of material self-interest. It can only be explained by the fact that Soviet citizens were prepared to make tremendous sacrifices for the future of socialist construction. As Hoffman mentions, "even anti- Stalinist liberals were to describe the Stalinist system as one of totalitarian democracy in order to acknowledge the popular enthusiasm it had aroused." (Hoffman, 1990, p.16) This reliance, actually partial reliance, on the masses was time limited. In the 1920s:
"Stalin had nothing else to rely on except the masses, so he demanded all out mobilization of the party and the masses. Afterwards when they had realized some gains this way, they became less reliant on the masses. (RCP, 1981, p.4)
I think that this statement is probably true and if so it is important in that it is essential to realise that a massive increase in the productive forces, which will of course be significantly different productive forces than those in capitalist societies, can only be initiated and maintained as a result of revolutionising the relations of production.
Having said that there was an element of idealism in Luxemburg’s passage it is absolutely essential to note that my hesitation is only specific and conjunctural. Socialism does demand a "complete spiritual transformation in the masses degraded by centuries of bourgeois class rule", nothing else can create a socialist society and this cannot be done simply by raising the productive forces so that peoples work and life experience is essentially similar to that of capitalism. Of course, socialism is a transitional society and can therefore only be defined in dynamic terms, is it moving forward to a non-alienated and non-antagonistic society or not?
In short, a society created on the basis of a forces of production theory will inevitably socialise a strata of ‘capitalist roaders’ precisely because the mode of production encompasses many of the same constituent elements.
PRODUCTIVE FORCES THEORY
Engels said in his ‘Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx:
"Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc; that therefore the production of the immediate material means of subsistence and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, the ideas on art, and even on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case."
(Marx & Engels, 1950, p153)
Basic survival needs must be met to allow the further development of society, and in the early stages of the Soviet revolution and during the Great Patriotic War, fulfilling basic survival requirements was indeed paramount, but this further development is not an automatic process. Whilst the economic base produces the ‘foundation’ from which the superstructure of society emanates it is worth noting that this is a mediated and interactive relationship, and that from similar foundations can arise radically differing superstructures. The point about socialism is that it takes a continuous effort to build it at the level of consciousness. Talking about personality and desire in a period of sacrifice for socialist construction Guevara points out that this cannot rest solely on the accumulation of material possessions but, "what is really involved is that the individual feels more complete, with much more internal richness and much more responsibility". (Guevara, pp.19-20)
There is, then, a dialectical relationship here. Without a sufficient level of productive forces to fulfil basic survival requirements, all talk of building socialism is essentially idealist. However, once these basic requirements are fulfilled, and this is a debate in itself, socialism cannot be built solely by productive forces expansion. Socialism, quite unlike capitalist mode of production, cannot be created without a constant conscious struggle. Productive forces theory does not challenge bourgeois consciousness but merely emulates it, and this has been amply decided in practice, reproduces bourgeois methods of thinking and envisages relationships between people as mainly economic ones.
Paradoxically, real changes in the relations of production will not only provide the opportunity to create a non-alienated human being, but also open the way to an expansion of the productive forces which could only be dreamed of by using capitalist methods. In addition, this expansion could be determined to be as non-exploitative in terms of resource usage, nature, and pollution as possible. Factors which never enter the equation in capitalist societies and which never were considered important in the ex-USSR, huge areas of which are seriously polluted.
Theoretically, it is necessary to transcend the productive forces theory of socialism which relies on the simple notion that all that is required for socialism is a 'superabundance' of consumer goods. The assumption is that when such goods are freely available then people will use them only as necessary and cease to covet them as an alienated expression of their humanity. Whilst socialist development does require an adequate level of productive forces, it should not be narrowly focused on competing with capitalism in the realm of consumer goods: this is to trivialise the whole socialist project. This ideology became explicit during the Khruschev period in the Soviet Union but it was always an underlying trend. What is necessary is a society in which people can realise their own essential humanity. Socialism is not about everyone having five video recorders it is about developing a completely new series of non-antagonistic relationships between humans and between humans and nature.
Productive forces theory meant that the Soviet leadership upheld the bourgeois idea that a socialist society resembled a bigger and better capitalist one, (with similar productive relationships). The Soviet elite squandered an enormous amount on prestige projects in its 'competition' with capitalism. Sport, space and prestige public buildings had expenditure lavished on them whilst basic infrastructure lay unattended.
Actually, if 'superabundance' could be provided under any system of social organisation then it would be terminal for the planet, both in terms of diminishment of resources and environmental damage. Twenty per cent of former Soviet citizens live in "ecological disaster areas" with a loss of life expectancy of seven years and a high rate of infant mortality. (Shaw and Pryce, 1990, p.140) An overwhelming concentration on short-term economic growth with no consequence paid to long-term environmental consequences was a characteristic of the process of socialist construction in the USSR and Eastern Europe. Geras advises that the aim of Communism should be the fulfilment of 'reasonable needs' which relate to social circumstances. (1985, p.83) The aim of socialism must be to provide everyone with a decent and dignified standard of living rather than the destructive and profligate levels of the affluent sections in the imperialist nations. In Marx’s time nature was looked upon as an inexhaustible supplier of resources although Engels had already noted the pollution and devastation caused by industrial production in Manchester in his Conditions of the Working Class.
Productive forces theory meant that democracy in the economic decision making process was not assigned primary importance. In a planned economy some way is necessary of making millions of micro decisions which the centre not only wastes time on considering but which history indicates can only come to notoriously clumsy decisions. Information technology and other scientific innovations could have facilitated this process but posed a potential challenge to the bureaucratic leadership especially in the area of censorship. (Medvedev, 1979) This is an example of how negations of socialist democracy inhibited innovation and creativity. The situation is that the increasing complexity of a socialist society as it develops necessitates a level of democracy, which enables the mass of the population to be involved in the decision making processes.
A rejection of productive forces theory explicitly views people, rather than machines and technology, as potentially the Communist's greatest asset for constructing socialism. People, after all, are a major part of the productive forces. Of necessity there has to be an emphasis on revolutionising people's consciousness, and in particular developing the cadre of the Communist party itself. (I do not have the opportunity to discuss it here but the Chinese experience is a paradigm example for further study. This is especially so as Maoism does stress ideological as well as economic transformation. (Burchett and Alley)
Eventually the CPSU provided a socialisation process in which bourgeois aims and aspirations were not only accommodated, but also actually reinforced. Marxism-Leninism was converted into little more than a series of ritual incantations which legitimised the 'leading role' of the ruling elite. Although it started well before, the Brezhnev period became a classic example of open corruption amongst the ruling elite. There was, hardly surprisingly, widespread resentment of the privileged lifestyle enjoyed by the bureaucrats with their own shops and dachas.
The growth of class forces alien to socialism developed to the extent that they were able to reach a level of ideological and organisational hegemony sufficient to gain control of the party and state apparatus. These forces had been developing, with periodic attacks being made on them via party organisational and political measures, (Getty, 1985) ever since the inception of the revolution. However, by the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU they were strong enough to make an indirectly public appearance. (In Eastern Europe there were specific problems caused by the imposition of socialism from above by the Red Army. The alienation of the Communist Parties from the masses, to use the most diplomatic language, was never overcome.)
RELATIONSHIPS OF PRODUCTION
So far, I have talked about revolutionising the relationships of production in a fairly abstract manner, what classification of things needs to be taken into account? Inevitably, this section must be something of a list as many items would provide major pieces of research in themselves.
The main concrete manifestations of the basic contradiction under socialism are the same as those under capitalism:
1. Between the mode of production and the mode of exchange.
2. Between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
3. Between proletarian ideology and bourgeois ideology.
In addition it is necessary to take into account some external contradictions:
4. Between the Soviet state and capitalist states, the encirclement of the USSR by imperialism.
5. Between the CPSU and other communist parties.
MODE OF PRODUCTION AND MODE OF EXCHANGE
Some important questions here are:
By what parameters was the operation of the law of value curtailed and transcended, and to what extent did the economy continue to be based on commodity production and exchange through the medium of money? Was labour power mobilised mainly by means of material rather than political incentives? We have mentioned throughout the paper the contradiction within the mode of production between the forces of production and the relations of production. Was there not a strong "economist" deviation throughout the Soviet period which tended to see communism as largely arising out of the development of the forces of production and which paid little attention to the revolutionary transformation of the relations of production?
PROLETARIAT AND BOURGEOISIE
The class contradictions of Soviet society also must take into account the peasantry and the intelligentsia. Furthermore, divisions within the different classes and strata must be taken into account as well as the organisational forms which gave expression to class interests.
Some of the questions that need to be raised here are:
Did the working class become differentiated into a stratum of relatively highly paid and privileged skilled workers, a sort of labour aristocracy, and the rest who were poorly paid with inferior general living conditions?
The class character of the peasantry: was there any real difference between those on collective farms and those on state farms? What about the survival of peasant plots which provided a very large proportion of vegetables and dairy produce: to what extent did this constitute a survival of petty proprietorship and thus provide a basis for a petit bourgeois outlook?
There is also the question of the intelligentsia. Did they become differentiated into a professional-managerial stratum, possibly a source of and basis of support for an emergent state bourgeoisie, and a larger stratum of lower status, more routine white-collar workers?
What about relations between the working class and the peasantry, the alliance between them being the original social basis of Soviet power? Did the collectivisation programme weaken or strengthen this alliance?
One aspect of the major class division under capitalism is that between mental and manual labour. To what extent was this division of labour broken down in the Soviet Union or was it even accentuated in the sense that the ranks of the intelligentsia were greatly augmented? By the nineteen sixties the intelligentsia outnumbered workers and peasants in the membership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
What about relations between the party, the state and the people? Did the party lose the active involvement of ordinary workers and peasants and become essentially a body of professional administrators and managers? If so, how and why did this happen? Concerning the state apparatus: the Bolsheviks came to power on the basis of winning the support of the Soviets but these progressively became formal bodies lacking any real power, were there any features of the Soviet state apparatus which constituted a real exercise of power by the proletariat?
Why were attempts to move towards the weakening and abolition of the family abandoned during the nineteen thirties? Was the survival of the bourgeois family a factor in capitalist restoration? Did the education system simply reflect the division between mental and manual labour and thus reinforce it or not? How successful were the campaigns against religious beliefs and institutions? To what extent was Soviet science directed towards serving socialist construction and to what extent did it simply emulate models of scientific practice from the imperialist countries? What was the role of the arts in sustaining or opposing bourgeois culture?
As Mao pointed out, in the early stages of socialist construction the ideas and practices of the old society remain strongly entrenched in the ideological superstructure of society. If these are not resolutely opposed then the danger of capitalist restoration is very great
SOVIET STATE AND CAPITALIST STATES: ENCIRCLEMENT OF USSR BY IMPERIALISM
The post-war encirclement of the former socialist bloc by imperialism, exemplified by the Cold War, meant that the USSR was forced to sustain a massive arms expenditure.
By 1981-1985 the growth rate of the Soviet economy, obviously on a larger total economic base, was 3.3% compared with 11.2% in 1951-55. (Samary, 1988, P.13) In order to increase the level of consumer goods and spend money on arms the Soviets withdrew capital from long-term investment: in 1978/79 it was only 1%; in 1980 - 0.5%. Estimates on the amount of the Soviet budget allocated to military expenditure vary considerably from 11% of GNP in the 1976-80 10th year plan, (Shaw and Pryce, 1990, p.144), to CIA estimates of 15% of GNP. (Shaw and Pryce, 1990, p.89)
If many ostensibly civilian projects, (e.g., communications, space research), which have considerable military implications are included in the calculations then the percentage of the Soviet economy devoted to military spending of one kind or another may have been much higher. The low productivity of Soviet labour did not allow the Soviet Union to compete with the world economy on favourable terms. This low productivity, and this is where a profound connection between the internal and external life of the Soviet Union existed, could only have been boosted by the energy and initiative of the masses. Such input was not forthcoming.
This was fatal because the limits of the Soviet economy as regards growth via extensive surplus value had been reached, and a move to the intensive accumulation of surplus value was necessary. In the absence of relying on the masses the leadership of the USSR was forced to look to advanced technology as a short-term palliative. (Hence, the importance of Western attempts, led by the US, to prevent the export of advanced technologies to the Soviet Union.). This could have been partly offset by internal technological innovations but, as noted above, these tended to be stifled.
On the military and intelligence fronts, the USA intervened heavily in order to support and indeed create anti-Soviet forces. (Blum, 1986) The consolidation of the Soviet Union always suggested that imperialism would have had to be subject to a decisive military defeat. Any attempt to construct socialism will need to seriously confront this. The theory of 'peaceful coexistence' was adapted from Lenin and integrated into the "overall revisionist outlook" as an attempt to side-step this issue. (Clark, p.10)
Whilst the principal contradiction in the former Soviet Union was the encirclement by imperialism. The fundamental contradiction, as argued elsewhere, was internal: the failure throughout to revolutionise the relations of production.
CPSU and OTHER COMMUNIST PARTIES
In my opinion, by the Seventh Congress in 1935, the Comintern was dead for revolution. The 'united front against fascism and war' required, "- a social-chauvinist alliance of the Comintern with the allied imperialists; - a subordination of the interests of the international proletariat to the exigencies of the foreign policy of the Soviet Union." (MLPC, p.1)
This meant that opportunities for advances, such as in Spain, were thrown away as armed insurrection was sacrificed to making deals with 'democratic' imperialist powers. (RCP, 1981a p.32) (Of course, there was a relationship between the Comintern and its fraternal parties, after all the Comintern line appears to have been influenced by the French Communist Party.) (MLPC, p.3) By 1941, Harry Pollitt was suggesting that:
"The Churchill government is the representative of national unity for the fulfilment of the aims of the British-Soviet Pact, of the United Nations and victory over Hitler." (CUO, 1972, p.6)
As the document says, "such a policy was an outright sell-out of the independent role of the Communist Party." (p.6) In the sense of non-reliance on the masses, then, there was a similarity between Soviet internal and external policies. The demise of the International Communist Movement meant that the Soviet Union received little solidarity from abroad. In addition, the marginalisation of Marxism in the imperialist countries meant that the bourgeoisie there had little to fear from their 'own' working class.
A major issue here is the degree to which the relations of the Soviet state with capitalist states were conducted in ways which objectively facilitated the struggles of oppressed people. After all, it was the foreign policy of the Soviet Union during the nineteen fifties, rather than internal affairs, which first drew criticism from the Chinese communists. It has been suggested that the Soviet leaders increasingly equated the interests of the international proletariat with defending the existence of the Soviet state, a nationalist deviation.
The relations between the CPSU and other communist parties are important for examining the rise of revisionism. The communist parties in the imperialist countries had very strong revisionist tendencies. For example, none of them took the question of armed struggle seriously. It is noteworthy that the Communist Party of Italy was not willing to take up arms against the Mussolini fascist regime but did do so when the German fascists assumed power in Italy. It should not automatically be assumed that revisionist lines always originated from within the CPSU. Rather it was a two-way process.
Why did the Soviet Union collapse as it did? This is an important question in a theoretical sense because it is axiomatic in Leninist, and not just Leninist, revolutionary thinking that state power cannot be taken peacefully, that the situation whereby one class overthrows another is inevitably a violent process. Do the events of 1989-91 indicate that there are now peaceful possibilities for social change? If so, then, this would give a new and solid basis for revisionism. In fact, the erstwhile Soviet Union has not experienced a revolution in the sense of another class taking state power.
I can do little better than quote directly from Kotz and Weir with whose thesis I agree and on whom this section relies.
"Conventional wisdom tells us that the remarkable demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 was propelled by the collapse of its socialist economy, leading the citizenry to peacefully sweep aside the nation's Communist leadership and their misbegotten socialist system. Yet, if one inquires into the whereabouts of the allegedly deposed Communist leaders, one finds most of them not languishing in exile, but still in high-level positions in the 15 new nations that emerged from the USSR.
Furthermore, most of them are a great deal richer than they were before the Soviet Union's demise. Two years after this odd revolution, 11 of these 15 new nations were headed by former top Communists.
In contrast to the conventional wisdom, the Soviet revolution of 1991 was made, not against the small elite that ran the Soviet Union, but rather by that elite. And it was not a collapse of the USSR's planned economy that drove this process, because no such collapse took place. While the Soviet planned economy encountered serious problems after the mid-1970s, it was far from collapsing at the end of the 1980s. Rather, the Soviet elite dismantled their own system in pursuit of personal enrichment." (Kotz and Weir, 1999).
Far from the Soviet elite being removed from their positions of privilege by force, then, they are responsible for engineering the reversion to capitalism themselves. Why should they wish to do this? Kotz and Weir go on to explain.
"That the party-state elite would opt for capitalism seems at first glance implausible. It is as if the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy suddenly converted to atheism, or the US Chamber of Commerce called for the nationalisation of private business. Yet just such a remarkable turnabout took place in the Soviet Union. By the 1980s most members of the Soviet party-state elite—the high officials in the Communist Party, the state, and the system of economic management—had long since ceased to believe the ideology of the system. As studies by Western Soviet specialists such as Alec Nove, Mervyn Matthews, and Kenneth Farmer discovered, the post-World War II Soviet elite consisted largely of ambitious individuals, lacking any strong personal conviction, who had risen into the elite in search of power, prestige, and material privilege.
When in July 1991 one of the authors asked Nikolai L., a long-time member of the Soviet elite, whether he was a member of the Communist Party, he responded, "Of course I am a member of the Communist Party— but I am not a Communist!" As Gorbachev's reforms opened the future direction of the system to debate, the members of this opportunistic elite evaluated the alternatives based on their own interests. Most of the elite concluded that the democratised socialism advocated by Gorbachev offered no advantages for them. Democratic socialism threatened to eliminate the arbitrary power they had exercised over the citizenry and to reduce their material privileges. The Soviet elite included some genuine believers in the ideals of socialism, including Gorbachev himself, but they turned out to be a small minority.
By contrast, capitalism held great appeal for most of the elite. They noticed how much richer their counterparts in the West were than they, not only absolutely but relative to the average living standard of their country. The Soviet system had enormously valuable assets, and they realised that, if the system were converted to capitalism, they would be the best positioned to become the new owners of these assets.
Indeed, that is just what happened. Russia's Prime Minister since December 1992, Viktor Chernomyrdin, was Minister of Natural Gas in the Soviet days. Today he is believed to be the largest shareholder of the privatised company Gazprom, which controls the Soviet Union's 20% to 35% of the world's natural gas reserves, and appears to be one of the world's wealthiest individuals. One survey found that 62% of the 100 richest businessmen in Russia had previously been members of the Soviet party-state elite (most of the other 38% apparently came from organised crime backgrounds). It also found that 75% of high-level political leaders in President Yeltsin's administration in post-Soviet Russia came from the Soviet elite."
The point about Kotz and Weir’s analysis is that it is a materialist analysis based not on the individual moral failings of members of the elite group, but rather their objective social position and further it does indicate the essentially bourgeois manner of thinking of this elite. After reading this, it seems totally implausible to imagine that any real headway was ever made in transforming the productive relations.
"People do not automatically change their ideas because the titular ownership of the means of production has changed, and though they may feel they have a common interest at factory level, that may still be expressed in terms of 'playing the system' for the benefit of the economic unit to which they belong.
The only way of avoiding this is to raise the general level of social consciousness, and that cannot be achieved overnight.
What is required is a concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat in which the political aspect is just one part of a broader cultural revolution." (The Marxist, p.12)
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Definition: productive forces.
The productive forces consist of tools and instruments developed by people and the people themselves with their skills and abilities, who actually expend labour power in the productive process. Because people are a productive force, and in the technologically backward sectors of the world economy still the most important productive force, and people have consciousness, then, it follows that in certain circumstances the level of that consciousness can heavily impinge on the rate at which labour power is expended and the level of productive forces is increased.
Definition: relations of production.
The relations of production can be defined simply as the manner of engagement of the productive forces with the overall process of production. This ‘manner of engagement’, however, can at times be singularly complex leading to corresponding difficulties of analysis. Marx puts it this way in a well known passage from his "Preface",
"In the social production of their existence, men enter into definite, necessary relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production corresponding to a determinate stage of development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation on which there arises a legal and political superstructure and to which there correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life-process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary it is their social being that determines their consciousness". (Marx, p.3)
Preface and Introduction to a Critique of Political Economy, Peking Foreign Languages Press, 1976.
It is critical to note that productive relations, as Marx notes, do not just cover work relations; although these will be an important part of them; but all areas of social life. There has always been a tension within Marxist theory as to whether work relations can be made non-alienating or whether this is not a naïve view and the concentration should be on minimising working time. At some point, alienating work relations would then become a fairly insignificant part of ones overall totality of life experience.
Definition: productive forces theory. The idea that an increase in the level of productive forces will automatically create the conditions for a socialist society. Productive forces theory does not pay attention to the need for continuing revolution in the ideological and political arenas, which have the intention of reshaping peoples worldview. It is a passive and 'inevitablist' theory in that, if socialism is inevitable, then why bother to continue struggling for it? The potentially creative role of a mass input is excluded from productive forces theory, and there is a reliance on material incentives. The theory and practice of the Chinese revolution is vital in developing a critique of productive forces theory.
[Return to Main Title Page]
This article by Ludo Martens of the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) is very good, in my opinion:
"Balance of the collapse of the Soviet Union: On the causes of a betrayal and the tasks ahead for communists"
Study Marxism through the concrete analysis of past and contemporary national liberation struggles and class struggles: http://marxistleninist.wordpress.com/
Thanks for the link CZ, PTB seems to follow the same sort of sociological analysis as opposed to a conspirator theory.
The problem with going to far into the evolutionary historical perspective is that in some sense Gorbachev and Yeltsin become the end result of the Bolshevik revolution as opposed to the betrayers. The qualitative leap comes only with Yeltsin. But if the sociological method is used than even he is not a decisive break since he was simply representing the interests of the bureaucracy which had been organically growing since Lenin's time. I've heard the enemies of Workers World claim that they considered Russia socialist even under Yeltsin, although I haven't found this in their news archives.
Power restructuring in China and Russia By Mark Lupher is a decent sociological analysis, although his analysis is not exactly a leftist. Although he is the son of the authors of the pro-GPCR "The wind will not subside", and was in Beijing during the height of the GPCR.
http://books.google.com/books?id=PEDqa8 ... q=&f=false
To play devil's advocate one could say that there is an unbroken line of evolution from Lenin to Putin, with each leader making reasonable adjustments with the problems inherited from their predecessor. This makes combating capitalist restoration infinitely more complex.
What the PTB is arguing is clearly that the decisive turningpoint was with Khrushchev, kicking off a process that culminated with Gorbachev. If you read the book of the International Communist Seminar (ICS), Collapse of the Soviet Union: Causes and Lessons, which collects papers from many Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations, you'll find a similar analysis from groups as diverse as the Communist Party of the Philippines and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).
Have you read the 1999 Declaration of the ICS?
Collapse of the Soviet Union: Causes and Lessons by the ICS is the best book on the subject, in my opinion. Harpal Brar's book Perestroika: The Complete Collapse of Revisionism and Ludo Martens' book USSR: The Velvet Counter-Revolution are also very good.
Another book, Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union, by Keeran and Kenny, is also interesting, though it is to the right of the others.
Study Marxism through the concrete analysis of past and contemporary national liberation struggles and class struggles: http://marxistleninist.wordpress.com/
I like practical policy-based analysis more than Marxist 'materialist' philosophical analysis, because I feel the latter has a tendency to be moulded and shaped by the user to justify their philosophical conceptions, and isn't based on a day-by-day, fact-by-fact analysis of history.
In my view, it was primarily the hierarchical organization of the Party and the country which lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union, particularly due to the concentration of power in the hands of the General Secretary. While many Marxists say it is unMarxist to believe in the 'great man of history', I think that in the case of the Soviet Union the individual was important, due to the dangerously hierarchical power structure described above. Gorbachev and his team made bad decision after bad decision, all while he consolidated his hold on the Party, filling out the Politburo and the Central Committee with supporters. By 1989, 8 of the 9 full members of the Politburo were replaced, and at the crucial June 1988 All Union Party Conference, Gorbachev filled it with supporters, rather than with traditionally and constitutionally required delegates, thus staging an event at this crucial turning point in history where potential opponents didn't even have a chance to criticise the policy shifts which had occured up to that point. Meanwhile, the working class Party members, so used to top-down authority and to following orders, were too disorganized, disoriented and disheartened to act because the pinnacle of the Party power structures was infiltrated by counterrevolutionaries.
Sam Marcy wrote a number of articles analyzing the collapse of the USSR from the historical, policy-based perspective.
"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
Thank you for your collective insight in this matter.
I was a relatively young man when the USSR collapsed. Infact, I was a student in the UK, and I thought the Revolution was just around the corner - and that Socialism would reign supreme. I thought nothing could be worse than the Thatcher government - then the Soviet Union collapsed. I remember the collective psychological trauma that swept through the Leftwing of the UK.
Socialist and Communist parties disintegrated, reformed and disintegrated again! It looked as if the Rightwing has emerged the victor, after a period of Communist pretense. I remember the comedian, Alexi Sayle performing a sketch on his show, that showed piles of dead Soviet soldiers. Sayle asks the question about what the death of 20 million Soviets actually meant, when Russia was turning into a cheap version of the West. The above articles are intellectual attempts at making sense of it all.
So, I have long thought that the USSR was not completely socialist; socialist in a way, but capitalist in another; that, as the article says, the relations of production had not been revolutionized, and for this reason: the socialism of the USSR was not self-perpetuating, and could not hope to transform itself into the second stage of communism (by perpetuating itself). But I have always had difficulty condensing this into a statement like "degenerated/deformed workers state." I have been recently attempting to find words to modify and describe in which way the USSR was socialist and in which way it wasnt; I have called it socialistic in "function," and capitalistic in "essence or form;" do these words apply properly? Is it clear as to what they meen, as clear as "degenerated"?
How had the relations not been revolutionized?
Read the article that Heiss posted.
The fall of the Soviet Union has both internal and external causes. The internal causes were both the bureacracy and the corruption that had lead to stagnation under Breznjev. But this could have probably been overcome with the policy of Gorbatsjov. The most imporant factor however was the external force by the Reagan administration that caused the Soviet economy to collapse. There were 3 important elements in that.
First: By leading / provoking the Soviet-Union into a war in Afghanistan (which Brezinsky later admitted, was a plan of the US, so the USSR could have it's own Vietnam trauma), and causing political isolation of the Soviet-Union and enforcing an embargo on the USSR, esp. on oil technology.
Second: By causing oil prices to drop using the Saudi's, who could increase production, thereby also causing harm to the Soviet-Union who could now get less dollars for oil.
Third: By causing a new step in the arms-race, the SDI plan, that would cost the Soviet-Union costfull economic resources to balance.
This combination of policies caused the economic collapse of the Soviet-Union.
Here is a book that may interest you:
It is not solely about the USSR, but also about the events in other Eastern Bloc countries like the DDR and Poland. One point he makes is that, while pushing for democratic reform, many of the protest movements in the East were not in favour of dismantling socialism, because the populations of these countries appreciated the "welfare protections and social mobility" they enjoyed under these regimes. He dispels the myth that the Eastern Bloc states were simply Moscow's puppets, citing for example the fact that the Berlin Wall was an East German initiative only reluctantly approved by Moscow. An interesting point he makes is that "the disturbances that brought down Communist regimes were often touched off by their own violations of Marxist orthodoxy—especially with that reliable riot starter, food price hikes."
As a Russian himself (who certainly lived through the events of 1989-1991), he provides an alternative perspective to that of the triumphalist western writers who give all the credit to cold warriors like Ronald Reagan and Helmut Kohl.
I have not yet read the book myself, but I have ordered it online, and will be reading it soon. My interest was prompted by reading accounts of the protest movement in East Germany, in the period called the Wende, which belied the notion that the movement was essentially pro-western, pro-unification and anti-socialist; there were such elements within it, but most East Germans opposed unification (seeing it as annexation) and, as far as I know, none of the protestors were chanting pro-capitalist slogans, only pro-democracy slogans. Just look at the Initiative for Peace and Human Rights, the New Forum and Democracy now, which were the main organised protest movements in the DDR; they were democratic socialists.
"Unpolitisch sein heißt: politisch sein, ohne es zu merken." - Rosa Luxemburg
The link does not work, is there another to this article?
I'd be interested to know what Rabble Rouser thought of "There is no Freedom without Bread", assuming you read it by now?
heiss93, I hope the reading of Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System (2008) by Boris Kagarlitsky will be interesing for you.
The last chapters of this book cover the economics of Soviet Union ant its crash
By far the single biggest factor in the Soviet Union's collapse was the coming to power of liberal, pro-Western ideologues such as Gorbachev, Yakovlev, and others.
The population of the former Soviet Union, with very few exceptions (mostly in the Baltic states) overwhelmingly look back positively on its Soviet past. Many individuals who supported the anti-communist revolution, such as my father, who agitated for the independence of Ukraine from the USSR and a capitalist economy, have now, after seeing the fruits of the USSR's collapse firsthand (massive economic, cultural, social decay, huge rise in poverty, criminality, corruption, etc) have now recanted and have become even more Stalinist and pro-Soviet than ever before.
But nostalgia in and of itself will not bear fruit. Putin's regime has largely ended the horrific starvation and miserly poverty in which the vast majority of the population was herded in to during the Yeltsin years and replaced it with manageable administrative corruption. When corruption reaches a point where the government is simply unable to function even at a basic level, or when economic collapse rears its head and people begin starving, then they will actually take matters into their own hands.
I recommend to everyone this analysis of the USSR by the Communist Party of Greece KKE.
It is entitled: “Assessments and conclusions on socialist construction during the 20th century, focusing on the USSR. KKE’s perception on socialism."
http://inter.kke.gr/News/2009news/18con ... lution-2nd
The Paris Communards struggled and died in the defense of their ideas. The banners of the revolution and of socialism are not surrendered without a fight. Only cowards and the demoralized surrender — never Communists and other revolutionaries.
I saw it coming that is why I was one of the vociferous critics of Gorbachev castigating him for "steering the Soviet economy towards market socialism". I thought he was a goner but he survived like a "cat with nine lives". There's still time to re-engineer the social and political system towards the hardline approach practiced by the conservative apparatchiks like Kruchyov, Gromyko Jr, etc. It is 'not the end of the world!!!'
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