File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-01-21.060, message 10


Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 22:55:25 +0000
Subject: Re: M-I: What went wrong in the former Soviet Union


[forwarded from Johnson's Russia List]

          

Dear David

Solomon Ioffe, who is always interesting, says (JRL, 
21.12.96) 'I am a chemist'. But he continues to be guided by 
the concept that: 'The country is always governed by an 
oligarchy.' Nevertheless, something has changed. A notion of 
dialectics has also been introduced: 'The greater the 
economic and political crisis in the country, the more 
changes there are in the oligarchy'. This can only be helpful. 
Otherwise oligarchy is like phlogiston, which marked the 
transition from alchemy to real chemistry but disappeared in 
the process. 
 
Hannah Arendt said that the growth in authority of an idea is 
'the augmentation of its origin.' Hegel appears to contradict 
this, arguing that the subsequent development of a thing 
'effaces' its origins, a curious notion which Marx however 
made the basis of his dialectics of the displacement of a 
dominant class by the successor it itself creates. Arendt's 
statement is actually compatible with Hegel's. It is just an 
emasculated variant. 

I should like to make some predictions about 1997. 
1. Dr Ioffe will continue his public evolution away from the 
alchemy of bourgeois social science (which he rightly 
suspects of being an oxymoron) and its subset, sovietology.
2. History will reappear and perhaps even historiography, 
although I am less hopeful about this. 
3. Transitionology will be clearly revealed as the study of 
how to avoid the transition from capitalism.
4. Marxism will be resurrected amid a partial rehabilitation 
of Lenin.
I forget who it was that said: 'revoluMessage-ID: <32E2A65D.1228-AT-netcomuk.co.uk>
Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 22:55:25 +0000
From: MA&NG Jones <majones-AT-netcomuk.co.uk>
Reply-To: majones-AT-netcomuk.co.uk
X-Mailer: Mozilla 3.0 (Win16; I)
To: marxism-international-AT-lists.village.virginia.edu
Subject: Re: M-I: What went wrong in the former Soviet Union

[forwarded from Johnson's Russia List]

          

Dear David

Solomon Ioffe, who is always interesting, says (JRL, 
21.12.96) 'I am a chemist'. But he continues to be guided by 
the concept that: 'The country is always governed by an 
oligarchy.' Nevertheless, something has changed. A notion of 
dialectics has also been introduced: 'The greater the 
economic and political crisis in the country, the more 
changes there are in the oligarchy'. This can only be helpful. 
Otherwise oligarchy is like phlogiston, which marked the 
transition from alchemy to real chemistry but disappeared in 
the process. 
 
Hannah Arendt said that the growth in authority of an idea is 
'the augmentation of its origin.' Hegel appears to contradict 
this, arguing that the subsequent development of a thing 
'effaces' its origins, a curious notion which Marx however 
made the basis of his dialectics of the displacement of a 
dominant class by the successor it itself creates. Arendt's 
statement is actually compatible with Hegel's. It is just an 
emasculated variant. 

I should like to make some predictions about 1997. 
1. Dr Ioffe will continue his public evolution away from the 
alchemy of bourgeois social science (which he rightly 
suspects of being an oxymoron) and its subset, sovietology.
2. History will reappear and perhaps even historiography, 
although I am less hopeful about this. 
3. Transitionology will be clearly revealed as the study of 
how to avoid the transition from capitalism.
4. Marxism will be resurrected amid a partial rehabilitation 
of Lenin.
I forget who it was that said: 'revoluso 
know that Lenin's father was a school inspector (who did 
however rise quite high and was awarded a blue uniform to 
wear on special occasions such as the Tsar's birthday). That 
the peasants exploited by the Ulyanovs consisted of an odd-
job man, a cook, the cook's daughter and a nurse for the 
children. 
Presumably it also known that while in exile the Lenins lived 
in such penury that in 1916 Vladimir Ilyich considered 
applying for a job selling Encyclopedia Britannica door-to-
door to the good burghers of Switzerland. 

This simplicity of lifestyle continued even after Lenin's 
ambitions were bankrolled by the Kaiser, who foresaw no 
danger to his position by letting the genie out of the bottle in 
his brother-monarch's part of the park. Even in the Kremlin 
Lenin owned two suits and lived modestly (I saw his small 
apartment there; it has now been moved to make way for 
furniture acquired by the Yeltsins). No doubt Lenin ate 
children and he was certainly an energetic womaniser but he 
was not after all a rentier. George Lansbury, a British 
Labour politician, telegraphed Prime Minister Lloyd-George 
>from Moscow suggesting he come and meet Lenin, whom he 
likened to 'one of the saints of old, doing what Christians call 
the Lord's work'. Even the British Guardian newspaper said 
Lenin and Chicherin were 'profoundly simple in their dress, 
food [and] life' and that the Soviet government was 
supported by the 'mass of workers solidly' and by two-thirds 
of the peasants. As for Lenin's conception of democratic 
centralism,  which the good Dr Ioffe says was based on 'the 
experience of the German Social-Democrats .. [and] French 
Socialist ministers ... [and] which is known in any 
corporation: I'll pay you money, and you do what I need 
done': this criticism is much weaker than, say, Rosa 
Luxemburg's - made exactly at the time of Duma-socialism - 
which savaged Lenin's 'bureaucratic ultra-centralism' and 
spoke of the '"ego" crushed and pulverised by Russian 
absolutism re-emerging as the "ego" of the Russian 
revolutionary [which] stands on its head and proclaims itself 
anew the mighty consummator of history'. But Lenin was 
unmoved even by these attacks, gladly accepting the 'charge' 
that he wanted to turn the party into a 'political factory' in 
which glorious individuals like Trotsky would be mere 'cogs 
and screws' and where 'martial law' would operate. He 
simply would not have noticed Dr Ioffe's attack, which is 
wide of the mark. The 'iron law' of oligarchy needs more 
than this. Lenin was not a rentier or a corrupt 
parliamentarian.

Which brings me back to Kolakowski (incidentally, it is a 
shame that Lukacs' wonderful book 'The Young Lenin' is out 
of print). Kolakowski is a locomotive crushing all in its path. 
Unfortunately the locomotive is not running on rails. It can 
go anywhere and crush the wrong people. Even chemists. 
For Kolakowski 's approach to science permits it to have a 
history. Even in the wake of Thomas Kuhn's epistemological 
revolution, many do not like to think thisd can be so. It 
seems vulgar to disagree with Kant. Ideas originate in the 
mind, surely? Anything else smacks of Marxism (or Artificial 
Intelligence, which is just as frightening). This refusal to see 
history immanent in ideas, is an understandable error. It is 
one which scientists themselves make all the time. But it is 
still an error. Scientific work is a practice but scientists are 
often so mesmerised by their results that they  cannot help 
defining theory in terms of one or other form of 
philosophical idealism. That is why Plato has more lives than 
a cat. 

That I think was Arendt's point, and also perhaps Hegel's. It 
was certainly Marx's. They all understood that ideas have 
histories, and not just the history of their discovery. That is 
why it is no excuse to be stuck in a time-warp populated by 
ideas about political life which belong in the French 
Enlightenment. Dr Ioffe's conception of oligarchy is exactly 
that: an enlightened critique of a form of absolutism which 
however departed the world stage two centuries ago. It has 
little current validity or explanatory power. It is a poor 
orphan. In my opinion, the decent thing is to ignore it and 
hope it will slink off by itself.

This idea of the nature of power and the theory of history it 
requires resembles one you often find in the pages of The 
Economist journal, except that they are optimists and Dr 
Ioffe rightly is not. Thus, The Economist likes to publish 
graphs which show that history is doing very nicely thank-
you and everything is fine. Health, life-expectancy, living 
standards, you name it - the graphs (ironed-out to ignore 
statistical blips like 1914-18, 1939-45 etc) prove it. Dr Ioffe 
similarly irons out the minor discrepancies. Thus, Russia in 
1924 was much the same as in 1914 (I omit qualifications, of 
course, we can all supply them). All that really happened 
was that the sons of the old lot of oligarchs somehow took 
over. And now here they are yet again (for example Yegor 
Gaidar is the grandson of a famous Bolshevik, ergo 
presumably former Tsarist oligarch, and himself a former 
editor of the CPSU's equivalent of the Economist, 
_Kommunist_ . So naturally he was ideally-placed to start 
the new game of musical chairs, according to this theory). 

Of course, history is full of echoes; in 1792 the French 
revolution declared a universal republic. In 1918 the 
Bolsheviks called for world revolution and said 'the working 
man has no nation'. Both regimes were, as Ioffe reminds us, 
taken over by people who soon abandoned such theoretical 
excesses. Dr Ioffe offers this as more evidence for his 
history-as-musical-chairs paradigm. But I still cannot help 
feeling that there is more to his insistence on it than that. 
There is such depth to Dr Ioffe's despair -- one feels his 
cynicism can only be the result of profound disillusion and 
the loss of faith. He denies this. But he is such a good 
historian. How else then, to read his phenomenal glossing-
over of so radical a historical caesura as October and its 
aftermath, except that its irretrievable loss is simply too 
painful to confront (I know this pain)? But if you draw the 
veils apart and actually look at what happened, it becomes 
hard to support such cynicism. 

The very maximalism of the early Bolshevik government 
invites the conclusion that this was no mere procession of 
oligarchies. 
Look at the way in which the slogan of world revolution was 
given effect. It was the moment of _State and Revolution_. 
Lenin demanded a peace without annexations and an end to 
the diplomacy of secret treaties which had brought the world 
to the abyss. This was the stimulus for Wilsonism, an 
exercise in pure cynicism as Ioffe rightly reminds us. One 
needs to recall the mood of the times to understand how 
Wilsonism was even possible given the chuavinist anti-
German hysteria of the other Entente powers. Nothing could 
have produced it except the sheer panic over Bolshevism 
which was suddenly ignited in western chancelleries by 'the 
pacifist Ulyanov'.
Then hatred of the Hun was displaced overnight by even 
more murderous hatred of Bolshevik Russia, capable of 
nationalising (it was alleged) all forms of property including 
women. Consider the obsession at Versailles with the 
spectre of Bolshevism. It dominated all their deliberations 
(the Russians, who'd borne the brunt of the war in the east, 
were excluded naturally). As Thorstein Veblen said, the 
desire to destroy Bolshevism 'was not written into the text of 
the Treaty [but was] the parchment upon which that text 
was written'. 

Thus was the twentieth century set in motion. Another 
contemporary wrote of the effects of the war: 'Everything 
was destroyed, commercial treaties and treaties of alliance, 
conventions between State and State regarding the most 
jealously-guarded interests, the public and private law of 
every single State. The elite of the greater European nations, 
and more especially its youth, were mown down. The 
Prussian, English and French aristocracies were decimated 
and the middle class both in France  and Germany. The 
better part of the Russian nation was dispersed or dead [sic]. 
The States of Western Civilisation finally dared to do what 
to previous ages would have seemed madness, if not a crime, 
and that was, to arm the masses.' Naturally, the masses 
instantly seized the oportunity to enter history on their own 
account.

According to H G Wells the political cataclysm was 'more 
universal, more profound and more incurable' than that of 
ancient Greece and Rome. The Great War had precipitated a 
universal crisis: it was not just the October revolution. There 
were the nationalist revolutions which produced the 
successor states to the Dual Monarchy; the November 
Revolution in Germany; the Kemalist revolution in Turkey, 
the Rice Riots in Japan, the May Fourth Movement in China, 
Gandhi's first Swaraj campaign in India, the ANC in south 
Africa, Sinn Fein's victory in Ireland, and more. But it was 
the Russian Revolution which was the wake-up call. Without 
it the war would have gone on because the Allies and the 
Central Powers might well have held out for unconditional 
surrender. 

What would be put in place of the collapsed system? 
Leninism or Wilsonism? If it had been left to the French and 
British, with their ideas about a punitive peace, there would 
have been a real revolution in Germany and we'd all be living 
in socialism by now. But we didn't get the International, we 
got the ILO and the League of Nations (the proof of the 
counter-revolutionary efficacy of Wilsonism is what 
happened when the US Congress made Germany pay 
reparations and wouldn't agree to join the League of 
Nations. Hitler. And can someone please explain to me why 
it's shocking to blame Hitler on Coolidge, whose economic 
insanity destroyed Weimar and produced the Great 
Depression and Hoover, who finally put the kibosh on things 
by agreeing Hawley-Smoot? Didn't Stalin do enough, 
already? In 1945, even the GOP understood this. This is only 
one of the reasons why I object to the practice of 
aggregating massacres, purges, war-deaths and famines -- 
each the death of an individual in specific circumstances -- 
like so many kilos of cheese, and laying them all at Stalin's 
feet. Robert Conquest says its only 50 million so Richard 
Pipes ups the ante and says, how about sixty? Better use 
arguments than body-counts.). 

In 1918, the target of Lenin's breathtaking initiatives wasn't 
the secret treaties but the institutions which invented them. 
That was what he was after. There could be no more radical 
assault on government-by-oligarchy than his.
And this was a question of urgent practice and not his 
denigrated (why?) utopian dreams. Lenin inherited a Tsarist 
foreign ministry so reactionary that a senior staffer could 
greet the notion of employing women with the words: 'Since 
the Middle Ages it has been known that woman is in league 
with the devil; it would be contra the laws of God and man 
to admit her into the ministry.' The civil servants went on 
strike. The Military Revolutionary Committee sent Ivan 
Zalkind, a Bolshevik, educated in prison and the Sorbonne. 
He gained admittance to the Ministry with the aid of a 
Mauser. Four days later the publication of the secret treaties 
and documents began. And how was this colossal event, 
which so terrified and scandalised Entente and Triple 
Alliance alike, accomplished? Trotsky, the newly-appointed 
People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, who declared 
himself 'indifferent to diplomatic ritual' and thought 
diplomatic relationships should be conducted with 
'revolutionary socialist parties bent on the overthrow of 
existing states', had said: 'I will issue a few revolutionary 
proclamations and then shut up shop'. He visited the 
Ministry once. The only other task he could find the staff 
was to sell off the contents of diplomatic bags which had 
arrived from abroad full of bribes, a job he gave to a semi-
literate sailor, Markin. Two other volunteers -- a 
permanently-drunk student named Polivanov and Zalkind 
himself, the only Bolshevik available -- set about the 
publication of the secret treaties. A little later Pravda 
published an appeal signed by three Americans for recruits to 
an 'international detachment of the Red Army'. The World 
Revolution had started. The White House duly took note. 

Unfortunately it soon stopped, and the rest as they say is 
history. But it is the remarkable tenor of events such as this, 
and the potent feeling of liberation which still hangs over the 
year 1917, which is liable to induce subsequent disillusion. 
And what stopped the revolution? Not any oligarchs. 
Anyway, it hasn't stopped. We only just began.

Dr Ioffe's musical-chairs theory of history is untenable. 
When I assert that Arkadii Gaidar was a hero, the youngest 
Bolshevik civil war commander (age seventeen) who later 
became a wonderful children's story writer (Timur And His 
Team -- prototype of the Second World War Timurs who 
helped grandparents and folks on the Home Front to 
survive), but that his grandson Yegor is a despicable and 
obnoxious traitor to his country, Dr Ioffe will surely accept 
that the grandfather would agree with me, and that what is at 
stake is, putting it mildly, inter-generational asymmetry and 
not the replication of an oligarchy. And that is why I 
confidently predict that in 1997 Dr Ioffe, whom I and my 
wife Natalya Grigorievna greatly enjoy, will find himself 
moving towards us, asymptotically perhaps, but moving 
nonetheless. And he will not be alone.

_Second, Third, Fourth Predictions_

In the eightieth year of Great October, I feel like pointing 
out that History has not after all come to a full stop.

It is possible that UFOs will land in 1997. In this case, we 
shall know what attitude to take. Since they come from a 
superior world, they obviously will have already constructed 
communism. 

That dealt with, I shall address a less momentous but more 
taxing question -- NATO.

It is obvious to normal people that the Cenozoic Period, 
which began sixty million years ago, is coming to an end 
amid a mass extinction of species which probably has no 
parallel in the history of DNA-based life-forms. It is also 
obvious that, as the men at the Utopia department (it exists, 
or something like it) at British Telecom tell us, in the next 
century we shall all disappear into the machine. To find out 
what this will be like, you may care to reread E M Forster's 
wonderful little novella of sixty or so years ago called The 
Machine Stops. This is the anti-future which awaits us, 
possibly, and not 1984, which George Orwell originally 
wrote as a management tool for the BBC during the last 
war, and converted into an anti-Soviet diatribe only when he 
realised that the view which he and Arthur Koestler had been 
putting about -- see Animal Farm -- that Stalin's Russia was 
actually just another kind of capitalism -- see also JRL, 
passim -- that this view could not be supported. 1984 in its 
own way is therefore convincing contemporary evidence that 
whatever it was, the USSR was not capitalism.

My dear friend Solomon Ioffe -- may I call you so? -- please 
note: it is impossible for any territory to abstract itself from 
the capitalist world order for any length of time. But 
nevertheless, the USSR was not capitalism. What was 
produced there was defence, and not any kind of 
commodity. It was Karl Marx who wrote 'at bottom there is 
only one money in the world'. But the Soviet ruble was not 
money, it was the defiance of money, its inversion and 
negation. It was a political act, and the entire history of the 
USSR can be seen as an attempt to preserve the existence 
and reality of this non-monetary chimera, against what 
Trotsky called 'value [in the Marxian sense] chattering at the 
borders' and chattering inside the borders, too, as every 
Georgian and Armenian trader and contrabandist knew. 

Marx also wrote 'the hive is at bottom one bee'. Human 
societies per contra have a social division of labour. In 
Soviet Russia labour was never commensurated as a 
commodity, which is the definitive proof if one were needed 
that Soviet Russia, where nothing could be obtained without 
the help of a friend, was not capitalist, state or otherwise. 
David Lane is correct to call it state socialism. Those who 
think otherwise should read Volume I of Capital before 
replying.

The end of DNA-based evolution and the convergence of 
technologies capable perhaps of deconstructing us and 
perhaps reassembling us in some Faustian technofantasy of 
Internet life, will progress in 1997. BT (who just purchased 
MCI) are investing money in downloading our memories, for 
later replay. I think it's called SoulSavr or something like 
that. But I won't bang on about all this except to make the 
also by-now perhaps trivial remark that the termination of 
random, natural-selection based evolution will coincide with 
its replacing (sublation is a good Hegelian term) by a process 
which if it exists at all must be to a greater or lesser extent 
teleological, i.e. rationally predetermined -- I am saying that 
we are reinventing ourselves as God. 

I come back to my remark at the start of this letter. History 
exists because in  a radical sense time's arrow cannot be 
reversed. There is no going back, to the USSR or to DNA-
based evolution. The phenotype will no longer be the 
ephemeral bearer of the genotype (Richard Dawkins, q.v.) 
but the destination of evolution -- the subject-matter of 
existence. As Hegel said, appearance becomes essence.

There are two points about this. First, when this happens, 
and it will happen, commodity-production will no longer be 
meaningful. There will not be labour, as an economic 
category. No labour-power, therefore no division of labour, 
therefore no markets and no commodities. Therefore no 
economies.

I'll just repeat that.

Therefore, No Economies, which by definition means no 
capitalism.

On the one hand, catastrophic biospherical crises, endemic, 
evolving and completely incapable of solution by their 
begetters -- capitalist Europe, Japan and the USA (and the 
rest). So, no going back. No more false optimism ala The 
Economist . General systemic crisis. Revolution.
I mean, a revolutionary transformation of every aspect of life 
(and our lives) which is going to happen, obviously, and 
which can only be anticipated, like a tidal wave, and not 
prevented. Yes, capitalism is its own grave-digger, because 
now, and especially now, its final, furious energies have been 
released on an unprecedented scale and are acting in concert 
to one end only -- to speed up the maturation of this general 
crisis and simultaenously to prepare the only possible 
solution (see the men from BT -- they have a web page, by 
the way).

Why is revolutionary upheaval perhaps inevitable?
Because economics intersects with politics, or because 
general accumulation crises necessarily debouch in political 
ones. Or any one of a dozen other ways of putting it. 

Any one of a dozen scenarios which 1997 will bring closer. 
My favourite, and why I am sending this thought to JRL, is 
to do with the consequence of NATO-enlargement, which 
also seem inevitable. But you can see all the same things in 
any continent. We are all in lockstep, as all through history.

The NATO debate in JRL hinges on a false premise, that 
enlargement may or may not be the solution to perceived 
problems. Enlarge, or not? This is already a pre-
revolutionary question, because the question cannot be 
answered or even intelligently posed in these terms and yet 
no other question can meaningfully be posed other than the 
dissolution of NATO. That is obviously unthinkable since it 
would inevitably destabilise capitalist Europe and leave it 
pervious to many threats - mass immigration from Africa, 
Islam, eastern Europe, and all the other things we all know 
about.  Because it would make it difficult for Germany to 
police its client states. Why is Helmut in such a hurry? 
Because the inevitable is already visible, and Europe is on 
another glacis like 1906-1914.

I am thinking exactly of clients like Poland which can hardly 
be excluded from NATO/EU but whose inclusion is 
extremely destabilising, since they are low-wage economies 
whose integration into the EU is menacing to the German 
working class even more than to the French. At some point 
there will be an intersecting of downward pressure on 
French and German wages with resurgent German 
nationalism (this month's Foreign Affairs has an overly-
optimistic article on this).

People seem to think recessionary crises can be avoided 
forever. It is pure philistinism. But to be concrete, once the 
looting of Russia is complete, and unless they get Caspian oil 
in time, there will be upward inflationary pressure on 
commodities that can trigger savage politically-enforced 
deflations. Then there will be no avoiding severe continuing 
political and social shocks to the fabric of Europe whatever 
burden NATO is asked to shoulder. But NATO is being and 
will be asked to absorb these pressures, as it is doing e.g. in 
Yugoslavia. And as the French like to ask, what are soldiers 
actually for? Peacekeeping?

If NATO is not enlarged to the Baltikum, some more direct 
form of colonial control will be necessary, because there is 
no way that living standards and wages can be raised to EU 
levels in the ex-CMEA -- they can't even manage it in the ex-
GDR, however much they spend. 

But if NATO is enlarged than nothing can stop a fascist right 
taking power in Russia, with Luzhkov or someone like him 
at the helm. It will happen. It is inevitable. Then the 
confrontation between NATO and Russia will not be 
mediated as it was in the Cold War, by peaceful coexistence 
and other behests of Lenin (in fact there is already a not-so-
secret offensive war against the West being consciously 
fought by Russian organised crime which, let's face it, is 
fronted by the Russian government. Call a spade a spade 
while there's time).

In short, we're heading for another of those little blips which 
The Economist elides on its graphs.
Nothing can stop it. 

*******


David Johnson
Research Director
Center for Defense Information
1500 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington DC 20005
202-862-0700
fax 202-862-0708
web page: http://www.cdi.org
djohnson-AT-cdi.org
Johnson's Russia List Archive:
 http://www.cdi.org/mailing/russia/
Home address:
 1647 Winding Waye Lane
 Silver Spring MD 20902
 USA



-- 
Regards,
Mark Jones
majones-AT-netcomuk.co.uk




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