File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 16

Date: Thu, 2 Oct 1997 14:53:21 +0000
Subject: Re: M-I: The Fall of the USSR/long article

Re: The Fall of the USSR/long article

     A few days ago, the article "Why did the USSR fall" by Kotz 
and Weir was posted on a number of Internet lists. It is a 
remarkable example of self-delusion, in which they deny the 
economic crisis that afflicted the USSR and close their eyes to 
the nature of the state-capitalist system there. As long as this 
type of reasoning remains influential, the left will be nostalgic 
for the old revisionist regimes, and it will learn nothing from 
their debacle.

     Kotz and Weir's idea is that the Soviet Union had socialism 
with a few minor defects:

     a) it was ruled by an elite,
     b) the masses had no say in anything.

     Other than that, it was socialist. This is similar to 
Proyect's view of Cuba.

     Kotz and Weir are nostaglic for the economic planning in the 
old Soviet Union. It was true that the Soviet Union grew during 
this century; so did many capitalist economies. The huge growth 
in the power of large-scale production is in fact an argument for 
socialism; but it doesn't prove that the monopolies that control 
this large-scale production are socialist. As for the Soviet 
Union, socialist economic planning didn't in fact exist there. 
Just as Mark showed in his articles about Cuba, a close study of 
the Soviet Union shows that, underneath the official planning, 
there was rampant economic anarchy. This can be illustrated by 
the work of the most serious scholars of the Soviet economy, as 
well as by phenomena noted over decades by the Soviet economists 
themselves. I reviewed some of these phenomena in my article "The 
anarchy of production under the veneer of Soviet revisionist 
planning" in Vol. 3, #1 of "Communist Voice". I referred only to 
economic phenomena that serious economists of varying political 
views agree exist in the Soviet Union.

     It turns out that you can't simply create an economic and 
social system the way the movies show Dr. Frankenstein creating 
his patchwork monster. If the working class isn't in control, 
capitalist anarchy of production will peek out from behind state 
planning at every turn. Kotz and Weir believe you can take a 
bourgeois-democratic political system from here, and an 
"authoritarian" (their words) system of politics and planning 
from there, and combine them. Their model seems to be the system 
of "mixed economy", which is capitalism but which they regard as 
"democratic socialism".

     They downplay the discontent of the masses in the Soviet 
Union. They point out that the old elite became, in large part, 
the new elite. This is true, only it would be more correct to say 
that the old state-capitalist bourgeoisie has a major or dominant 
role in the new private bourgeoisie. They won't say this, because 
if they admit that the old "elite" was actually a bourgeoisie, 
then they can't regard the old system as socialist planning. So, 
like Proyect, they throw aside the class nature of the old elite 
and regard it just as an unfortunate layer of Soviet society, 
which just by accident happened to be ruling Soviet society.

     One would think the mass actions against the old sytem in 
the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe sufficiently showed mass 
discontent. But Kotz and Weir rely on polls. These polls say that 
90% of the masses don't like the old system (and similarly for 
the elite). But Kotz and Weir perform a conjuring trick. They end 
up reinterpreting this poll to make it show that the masses liked 
the old system. How do they do this? They say that support for 
the Swedish system is really somehow support for the old system 
of planning. And they claim that support for "democratic 
socialism" in the poll is also nostalgia for the old system. But 
"democratic socialism" is widely used to mean a liberal sort of 
"mixed economy".

     The Russian masses didn't like the old system, and they are 
being cheated and squeezed by the new system. Large numbers of 
Russian workers are worried, but they don't yet understand what 
the alternative is. That's the present situation, and it's 
confirmed by the polls used by Kotz and Weir.

     Kotz and Weir also provide an astonishing picture of the 
Soviet economy. They pooh-pooh the stagnation, and give 
unrealistic ideas of what life in the Soviet Union was like. They 
present the health system, for example, in glowing terms, based 
on the number of doctors and hospital beds per capita, and ignore 
that the health system for the masses was starved of resources. 
One has to ask what equipment and resources the doctors and 
hospitals had. For example, the lack of birth control measures 
provides a glimpse at another side of the Soviet health system. 
They laud the increase in wheat production in the Soviet Union, 
and fell to note the deep problems facing Soviet agriculture and 
the inability of the system to deal with this. They present the 
problem of the unavailability of consumer goods and long lines 
for these goods as simply a problem of one or two years. And it 
goes on and on.

     Pictures of revisionist life in nostaglic colors require 
closing one's eyes to many realities. It is not a pleasant 
reality that there are no socialist countries existing at this 
time, and that the various attempts to build socialism throughout 
the 20th century all fell back and were sidetracked at a certain 
point. But the sooner one faces this bitter truth, the sooner one 
can start work to rectify it by helping create conditions for a 
new assault on capitalism in the future. Back in the 19th 
century, the Marxist working class movement took up support for 
socialism although no socialist countries existed. They relied on 
a realistic analysis of the economic trends revealed by 
capitalist development itself. Today, facing the 21st century, we 
must show this same mettle.

Joseph Green
Communist Voice web page: 
Joseph Green

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