Soviet socialism: Utopian and Scientific

By Sam Marcy (Jan. 30, 1992)
Not far from the Wabash River in southwest Indiana is a little town called New Harmony. Its population of about a thousand hasn't varied much for decades. It has been seen for many years as a cultural center in a largely agricultural region.

The town of New Harmony has considerable significance from a historical point of view. It was a milestone in the evolution of socialist thought and has retained some features of social reform that have practical political significance, even today.

What makes New Harmony stand out? More than 150 years ago, when it was still a frontier town, an attempt was made to build a communist society there. There were many similar ventures at that time, but this one is notable because it was organized and inspired by one of the truly great figures of the 19th century, a Welshman named Robert Owen.

Owen was different from the great personages of the 18th century--for example, those who signed the Declaration of Independence. In that document they pledged "our lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor" to the cause of independence. But in practice, they never put their money where their mouths were. Not only did they profit from retaining slavery, but they almost all gained great personal fortunes out of the separation from English rule. This is not to denigrate them but to show how they differed from someone like Owen.

Robert Owen stands out like a giant because he did spend his considerable fortune in the cause of improving the lives of the workers. He established a number of communist societies in Scotland and in the United States and devoted the better part of his life to tireless defense of the interests of the working class.

Robert Owen: early communist

In his book "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific," Frederick Engels, the co-worker of Karl Marx, described how Owen's work began at a time when the conditions of the working class in the large manufacturing towns of Britain had become frightful.

"At this juncture there came forward as a reformer a manufacturer 29 years old--a man of almost sublime, childlike simplicity of character, and at the same time one of the few born leaders of men. Robert Owen had adopted the teaching of the materialistic philosophers: that man's character is the product, on the one hand, of heredity, on the other, of the environment of the individual during his lifetime, and especially during his period of development.

"In the industrial revolution most of his class saw only chaos and confusion, and the opportunity of fishing in these troubled waters and making large fortunes quickly. He saw in it the opportunity of putting into practice his favorite theory, and so bringing order out of chaos.

"He had already tried it with success, as superintendent of more than 500 men in a Manchester factory. From 1800 to 1829, he directed the great cotton mill at New Lanark, in Scotland, as managing partner, along the same lines, but with greater freedom of action and with a success that made him a European reputation.

"A population, originally consisting of the most diverse and, for the most part, very demoralized elements, a population that gradually grew to 2,500, he turned into a model colony, in which drunkenness, police, magistrates, lawsuits, poor laws, charity were unknown. And all this simply by placing the people in conditions worthy of human beings, and especially by carefully bringing up the rising generation."

How different this was from the underfunded, ill-conceived social services of today, which help drag down the spirit of the people! Engels continued:

"He was the founder of infant schools, and introduced them first at New Lanark. At the age of two the children came to school, where they enjoyed themselves so much that they could scarcely be got home again.

"Whilst his competitors worked their people 13 or 14 hours a day, in New Lanark the working day was only ten and a half hours. When a crisis in cotton stopped work for four months, his workers received their full wages all the time. And with all this the business more than doubled in value, and to the last yielded large profits to its proprietors.

"In spite of all this, Owen was not content. The existence which he secured for his workers was, in his eyes, still far from being worthy of human beings. `The people were slaves at my mercy.' The relatively favorable conditions in which he had placed them were still far from allowing a rational development of the character and of the intellect in all directions, much less of the free exercise of all their faculties. `And yet the working part of this population of 2,500 persons was daily producing as much real wealth for society as, less than half a century before, it would have required the working part of a population of 600,000 to create. I asked myself, what became of the difference between the wealth consumed by 2,500 persons and that which would have been consumed by 600,000?'

"The answer was clear. It had been used to pay the proprietors of the establishment 5 percent on the capital they had laid out, in addition to over £300,000 clear profit. ... The newly-created, gigantic productive forces, hitherto used only to enrich individuals and to enslave the masses, offered to Owen the foundations for a reconstruction of society; they were destined, as the common property of all, to be worked for the common good of all. ...

"His advance in the direction of communism was the turning-point in Owens' life. As long as he was simply a philanthropist, he was rewarded with nothing but wealth, applause, honor and glory. He was the most popular man in Europe. Not only men of his own class, but statesmen and princes listened to him approvingly. But when he came out with his communist theories, that was quite another thing. ...

"Banished from official society, with a conspiracy of silence against him in the press, ruined by his unsuccessful communist experiments in America, in which he sacrificed all his fortune, he turned directly to the working class and continued working in their midst for thirty years. Every social movement, every real advance in England on behalf of the workers links itself on to the name of Robert Owen. He forced through in 1819, after five years' fighting, the first law limiting the hours of labor of women and children in factories. He was president of the first congress at which all the trade unions of England united in a single great trade association."

New Harmony

New Harmony was one of Owen's "unsuccessful communist experiments in America." In 1824 he paid $150,000 for 20,000 acres of land and buildings originally occupied by a Lutheran group called the Rappites. They also believed in cooperation and communal ownership, but wanted to move their settlement to a location closer to the markets.

From 1825 to 1827, New Harmony, now in the hands of Owen, attracted many of the most idealistic and inventive reformers of the day, as well as women and men of the natural sciences. In addition, many jobless people found their way there, inspired by public lectures Owen gave in many Eastern cities.

The principles of the community were explained as follows: "Within the community all work was to be equal. One was to receive that which was necessary to him. The teachers' work was to be on the same footing with the laborer, the farmer the equal of either. All were to perform to the best of their ability and receive the same compensation." ("The New Harmony Story," by Don Blair)

In its few short years of existence, the communist society at New Harmony broke new ground. It introduced into the United States: the first kindergarten; the first infant school; the first trade school; the first free public school system; the first women's club; the first free library; the first civic dramatic club; and it was the seat of the first geological survey.

The progressive achievements of this little utopian colony inevitably became the basis for important demands taken up later by the working class movement. The bosses are still fighting tooth and nail against such benefits, and cutting them back wherever they can. To the extent that they are today more generally available to the workers, it is owing to bitter class battles across the country. How interesting that what were at that time considered utopian have now become very practical and indeed necessary.

Long after it ceased to be a communist colony, New Harmony was a social and cultural oasis. It was to become a center of both the abolitionist and the women's movements.

Why it disintegrated

Why did it disintegrate? The common explanation given by bourgeois critics of these early communist experiments is that they failed to reward "personal initiative" and the "rugged individualism" for which capitalist imperialism is so famous.

However, the more important reason for their failure was that they were in competition with the capitalist mode of production and dependent upon it for the purchase and sale of materials. Even the Rappites, who were quite prosperous, had had to move their communal society from Indiana to Pittsburgh to be nearer the market.

Owen had based his conception of communism on the view that the success of his colonies would enlist the cooperation of the bourgeoisie, who would join in when they saw how superior these societies were. He and the other great utopians, like Claude Henri Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier, overlooked the characteristic feature of the capitalists: their unlimited greed and avarice driven by the profit motive. Not only does that prevent their conversion to the idea of a utopian society, but they cannot be persuaded to grant even the workers' most meager demands without a struggle.

As one of Owen's more realistic contemporaries put it: "With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 percent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 percent certain will produce eagerness; 50 percent, positive audacity; 100 percent will make it ready to trample all human laws; 300 percent, and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both. Smuggling and the slave-trade have amply proved all that is here stated." (T.J. Dunning, as quoted by Karl Marx in "Capital")

Lest anyone think the struggle has moderated since this was written, we recommend two recent books: "True Greed" by Hope Lampert (New American Library [a division of Penguin Books], 1990) and "Barbarians at the Gate" by Brian Burrough and John Helyar (New York: Harper & Row, 1990).

Both describe with great richness of detail the struggle to control RJR Nabisco. It was an absolutely ruthless, ferocious, dog-eat-dog contest to amalgamate different divisions of RJR Nabisco's corporate structures. It was carried out with an abundance of fraud, deceit, collusion, conspiracy, back-stabbing and maneuvering. Every deception the human mind could possibly conceive was used to win domination of this mega-corporation.

The tentacles of this supra-national colossus stretch from one end of the globe to another. It employs the labor of tens of thousands on virtually all continents. It gets super-profits from the low pay of workers abroad and sells its products in virtually every country on earth.

Now that this mega-battle is over, the economic crisis is tearing away at RJR Nabisco's very vitals, as with every other capitalist enterprise, large and small.

Appealing to the inherent goodness of these capitalists proves to be an exercise in futility. By the time Marx and Engels wrote the "Communist Manifesto," the bourgeoisie had revealed all its basic social and political tendencies.

Owen was not an accident of history with his childlike simplicity, even naivet‚. The bourgeoisie then was still relatively new and undeveloped. It was in a struggle against the aristocracy. The democratic writers and philosophers who attacked feudalism with their great wit and biting criticism tended to see the bourgeoisie in a benevolent, more humane light than the feudal aristocracy. That led them to the conclusion that the bourgeoisie could be peacefully absorbed into the mass of the people.

Other great intellects beside Owen had the same conception. Saint Simon and Fourier, although their theories varied, also had this utopian vision that the bourgeoisie, no less than others, could become part of a new and more rational society where all would live in happiness and prosperity.

The bourgeoisie had not yet fully shown its predatory character. Neither the philosophers nor theoreticians of utopian idealism at that time could foresee the devastating class character of the society that was emerging under total domination by the bourgeoisie.

Not until Marx and Engels arrived on the scene was it possible to analyze the real dynamics of the capitalist system. As they were subsequently to demonstrate, Owen could not recognize in his time that his plan utterly disregarded the objective laws that governed capitalist society: Capitalist society was torn asunder by class contradictions, which are the motivating force in history. The struggle for socialism could only be successfully conducted if it were embraced by the working class in an irreconcilable struggle against the capitalist class, which eventually would come as a result of the further development of capitalism and the means of production.

The raging class struggle made any attempt at social equality and abolition of the horrors of capitalism impossible. Socialism can only come as the product of the resolute struggle of the working class itself in irreconcilable conflict with the bourgeoisie.

Above all, Owen could not in his day foresee the emerging anarchy of capitalist production. The destructive force unleashed by the periodic paroxysms of capitalist crisis would not allow even a tiny oasis to carry out the systematic planning needed to build his egalitarian society. Indeed, these cooperative ventures with their more limited resources are among the first to be swept away, as later history was to show. Many of the cooperative enterprises, built up by years of hard work and self-sacrifice, fell victim to the crises the capitalist mode of production inevitably brings. These crises eventually can sweep away even the largest of corporations and banks.

In the current crisis, banks like BCCI are well-nigh insolvent. Even the largest, Citicorp, is dependent on the support of the Federal Reserve, the government's central bank.

Owen started his first cooperative venture in 1800. By 1825, when he tried to develop New Harmony as an island of cooperation in a world torn by class antagonisms, the first worldwide capitalist economic crisis was under way.

Even the capitalist crisis of 1825, while short-lived, was universal in character. It vitally affected New Harmony because no community can stand alone in the face of such great devastation. Hundreds of cooperatives throughout the world, even those enjoying relative stability and prosperity, have perished. They are weaker in relation to the capitalist trusts and monopolies, so they fall victim to a capitalist crisis like the one now raging.

Communism as an idea has existed for centuries. Communist societies like New Harmony and New Lanark and hundreds of others were not an accident of history but a response to the meanness, inequality, poverty, etc., of class society.

The roots of communism go much farther back, however. They lie deep in the primary or primitive stage of the development of human society. Primary communism was the first form of social existence of the human species.

Lewis Henry Morgan's writings on the communal life of the Iroquois in North America confirmed what the socialist movement in Europe had deduced about early societies elsewhere before written history: that there was a universal period when property was communal, there was no state, and the products of human labor were shared equitably. These conclusions have since been fortified by the study of Native peoples all over the Americas, Asia and Africa.

Primary communism, based on food gathering and hunting, succumbed to private ownership because it lacked the necessary concentration and development of the means of production. But private property, while more productive, also brought subjugation and degradation, first of women.

The discovery of the early communist societies refuted the canard assiduously cultivated by apologists for the bourgeoisie: that a planned society is utopian, that humankind cannot plan its own society on the basis of common ownership of the means of production and equitable distribution of the products of labor. People had done just that for hundreds of thousands of years.

Was the Russian Revolution utopian?

Now that the counterrevolution is fully in the saddle in the USSR, and its wrecking crews are breaking down every progressive and revolutionary reform, shall we say that this too was a form of utopianism? Was not the Soviet Union in reality as isolated as was New Harmony? Was it not an attempt to build an oasis within a world imperialist environment that was rent by malignant class contradictions?

To begin with, the architects of the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR, particularly its leader, Lenin, could never be described as visionaries. On the contrary, their assessment of the prospects for the USSR following the victory of the October Revolution was as realistic as any social and political analysis could possibly be.

The architects of the revolution were not inclined to rely on the inherent goodness of the bourgeoisie--the Achilles heel of the Owenites. The Bolsheviks had been schooled in the scientific socialism of Marx and Engels. They had absorbed the experience of earlier progressive, anti-colonial and proletarian struggles.

They fully understood the objective tendencies of the bourgeoisie, the imperative need of capitalist monopolies to expand, their inability to solve their own contradictions. Above all, they understood the contradiction between the collective character of production--that is, of collective labor--and the individual private appropriation of the labor of others by the bourgeoisie.

They understood that the one true ally in the world arena that could keep the wolf from the door was the world proletariat--which at that moment was especially strong and revolutionary in Western Europe. But they didn't neglect to proclaim an alliance of the working class with the mass of the oppressed peoples in what is now called the Third World. Lenin amended the fundamental slogan of communism to: "Workers of the world and oppressed peoples, unite." It was clearly and unmistakably aimed at the ruling classes in the imperialist countries.

For those who doubt that such was the perspective of the architects of the Soviet state, it is only necessary to remind ourselves of some of Lenin's most important speeches. They contained the sternest warnings regarding the encirclement of the USSR and the danger to its very existence.

Lenin said it again and again:

In his Report of the Central Committee to the 8th Congress of the Party, March 18, 1919: "We are living not merely in a state, but in a system of states, and it is inconceivable for the Soviet Republic to exist alongside of the imperialist states for any length of time. One or the other must triumph in the end." ("Collected Works," Vol. 29, p. 153)

In a speech to the Moscow Soviet, April 23, 1918: "We are a revolutionary working class contingent that has advanced to the forefront, not because we are better than other workers, not because the Russian proletariat is superior to the working class of other countries, but solely because we were one of the most backward countries in the world. We shall achieve final victory only when we succeed at last in conclusively smashing international imperialism, which relies on the tremendous strength of its equipment and discipline. But we shall achieve victory only together with all the workers of other countries of the whole world.... Our backwardness has put us in the forefront, and we shall perish unless we are capable of holding out until we receive powerful support from workers who have risen in revolt in other countries." (Ibid, Vol. 27, p. 233)

In a report to the Moscow Conference of Factory Committees, July 23, 1918: "The Russian Revolution is only one of the contingents of the international socialist army, on the action of which the success and triumph of our revolution depends." (Ibid, Vol. 27, p. 545)

In a resolution he wrote for the 7th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, March 6-8, 1918: "The Congress considers the only reliable guarantee of consolidation of the socialist revolution that has been victorious in Russia to be its conversion into a world working class revolution." (Ibid, Vol. 27, p. 119)

These quotes from Lenin are in sharp contrast to Owen's naive conception of getting the bourgeoisie to cooperate and allow the building of socialism.

Lenin's view was also, of course, diametrically opposite to the conceptions of Mikhail Gorbachev. Though Gorbachev came over 150 years after Owen, he appropriated the Owenist conception of winning the collaboration of the capitalists, even though by then they had degenerated into a regressive and utterly decadent social category.

Gorbachev in his much-vaunted theses on a "new world order" and "universal human values" preached a reactionary utopianism that turned Owen upside down. After 150 years of bitter struggles against the working class, after the crushing of the Paris Commune, after innumerable imperialist interventions against the Soviet Union and every other country where the masses attempted in any way to alleviate imperialist oppression--from Guatemala to Cuba, Grenada and Nicaragua, from the Congo to Angola and Mozambique, from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan, from Iran to Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, and Iraq--after decades of nuclear intimidation and finally Star Wars, Gorbachev preached harmony with the capitalists, as though it all depended on the good will of the oppressed. It was nothing less than treachery and a surrender to imperialism.

Isolation of first socialist revolution

The socialist revolution unexpectedly broke out first in Russia, not in an advanced capitalist country. The USSR was to a large extent an isolated phenomenon in a world still dominated by capitalism. Although it covered one-sixth of the earth's surface, it was surrounded by a world imperialist environment.

The Bolsheviks had a revolutionary and scientific approach to building socialism, but they were no more immune to the social environment, to the domination of monopoly capitalism on a world scale, than was New Harmony in its day.

In attempting to analyze the developments that led to the counterrevolution in the USSR, the many discussions that took place in the Second International before the First World War on the prospects of proletarian revolution are of greatest interest. Jean JaurŠs, the French socialist leader, had written about the problem of the isolated socialist state even before the turn of the century:

"In the present condition of Europe, and insofar as the course of events can be foreseen, it is no longer possible to hope, unless one is blind, or to assert, unless one is a traitor, that socialism will be achieved in the advanced nations by peaceful means. The nation which first achieves socialism will see all the frenzied powers of reaction hurled against it at the same time. It will be lost if it is not itself prepared to seize a sword, to answer bullet with bullet so that the working class of other countries may have time to organize and rise in its turn." (Quoted in "Stalin--A Critical Survey of Bolshevism" by Boris Souvarine, New York: Octagon Books, 1972)

This problem engaged the attention of the opportunist elements in the Second International as well as of the revolutionaries. They drew divergent conclusions. The opportunists concluded from the Paris Commune that collaboration with the bourgeoisie was necessary. That led them to the ultimate treachery--support for the First World War. The revolutionists drew the essential lesson of the Commune from the writings of Marx: that the working class could not lay hold of the ready-made machinery of the capitalist state, but had to smash it and erect a state of its own, of which the Commune was an embryo. Lenin elaborated on this in "State and Revolution."

Throughout the period of the growth, flowering and development of social democracy in Europe, the issue of whether an isolated workers' state could long exist was the subject of continual discussion.

Lenin, the realist with a dream

A communist must dream, said Lenin. But he was no builder of castles in the air. He was a realist to the marrow of his bones and the most profound student of Marxism, which he applied to the conditions of old Russia.

Here we find a difference between utopian socialism and scientific socialism. The utopians' impractical, imaginary schemes were based on the good will of the ruling class and the prospect of thriving in a stable, peaceful social system. But this system has since undergone two monstrous world wars, innumerable counterrevolutionary interventions, and genocidal attempts to crush any who dare rebel.

One aspect of Soviet history was undoubtedly utopian; that was the period of War Communism. However, it was forced upon the regime by internal counterrevolution, civil war and intervention. Under those conditions the Bolsheviks leaped over any intermediate forms and moved directly to an enforced kind of equality in which food was rationed, grain was requisitioned from the farmers and the market was abolished.

While it saved the revolution, it led to economic disaster, as the rebellion at Kronstadt showed. At the 10th Party Congress, what should have been a gathering of triumphant victory for socialism turned into something else amid a confused debate on how to organize the new Soviet republic. The economy was utterly devastated; production had reached its lowest point ever. A temporary retreat was necessary.

As soon as peace returned, the Bolshevik government went back to the market for a limited time in order to rebuild the industries and the working class itself, which had been decimated in the armed struggles.

Objective and subjective conditions

Marx and his successors were able to see what was not clear to the utopians: that people "make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past." ("The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte")

All the USSR's problems must be seen in this objective context. The revolutionaries could not make history out of their own materials but had to make do with the conditions that prevailed in Russia.

First and foremost among these conditions was that the workers' state in the USSR only succeeded because of its alliance with the much more numerous peasantry. The alliance was correct, principled and indispensable in the overthrow of czarism. But it presented an enormous problem. The proletariat as a class is supremely interested in the socialization of property and production, which the bourgeoisie has in fact already started. But the peasants are concerned with private property, their private plots. The alliance showed its difficulties right from the start of the revolution. How to keep the loyalty of the peasants?

This led to the next problem. It was not a pure workers' state in the sense that the proletariat was a majority of the population or was able to organize a new social system on its own. The truth of the matter, as Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin and Stalin all saw and agreed, is that it was necessary to rely to a large extent on the old czarist administrative apparatus--a bitter pill to swallow. This was true even in the military sphere. Former czarist officers were recruited, even though they had to be guarded by communist civilian cadre, the commissars.

The Russian proletariat, truly one of the great wonders of the world in their class-consciousness and adherence to Marxism, could go through innumerable sacrifices, face famine and civil war, subversion and counterrevolution, as well as intervention. But the Bolsheviks had promised peace, and peace is what they most wanted and needed. Weariness was setting in.

Relying upon elements of the old state apparatus in all fields of life held not only obvious dangers but a hidden one: these elements knew how to show eagerness and servility to the state, as in czarist times. The Communist Party, which they had previously scorned and feared--not to speak of imprisoned and banished--now could become a source of privilege if they showed support for the government and party.

The question before the Bolsheviks was how to deal with these layers--the old bureaucracy, the officialdom, remnants of the old educated classes--who now, sensing the victory of the revolution, tried to find an easy entrance into it.

Bourgeoisie grows up inside USSR

Just as during the lengthy feudal period the bourgeoisie grew up in the crevices of feudal society, so in Soviet society the bourgeoisie accommodated itself to the workers' state and, after the death of Lenin, to the leaders. They fortified their position within the society, now and then offering a challenge of a minor character, until they had become strengthened and went from servility to domination.

The few years of peace that began in the mid-1920s, a relatively stable period in the capitalist world, sowed illusions of incredible proportions in the USSR. The perspective on the world revolution was abandoned in what seemed like an endless period of coexistence.

The period of stability strengthened the hold of bureaucracy and led to endless repression of both left and right. This quenched much of the revolutionary idealism not just in society in general but above all among the mass of communists who bore the brunt of the indiscriminate repression.

The rise of bureaucratism and the undemocratic crushing of party discussion and debate opened the door to bourgeois elements who were utterly indifferent to socialist ideology but willing to espouse it in order to ingratiate themselves. All this set in motion a train of developments that has finally led to the undoing of the party and the capture of the government and party apparatus by a social grouping hostile to communism. This inner corrosion was the Achilles heel, which from a subjective point of view strengthened the internal forces of capitalism and led to the great debacle.

When the Gorbachevs, the Yakovlevs, the Yeltsins, the whole kit and kaboodle of the new reformers came out into the open in full view of the world, the U.S. bourgeoisie gave them gavel to gavel coverage. It showed that the party had been captured by a social grouping hostile to socialism, anxious to propitiate the new bourgeoisie and accommodate itself peacefully with the imperialist oppressors.

IMF imposes neocolonialism

It is utterly incredible that today the republics of the USSR are in a neocolonialist position, having to beg for aid from the imperialists. How did they get that way? It couldn't happen without internal corrosion of both the party and its institutions. We may differ on just how this happened, but it is absolutely incontestable that inner decay sapped the proletariat's revolutionary strength and vigor.

It is now reported (New York Times, Jan. 11) that after the recent disastrous increases in consumer prices had already begun, throwing the USSR into chaos, a team from the International Monetary Fund, "acting with the endorsement of the United States," actually went to Moscow to demand that the government of Russia take "drastic additional steps, chief among them a sharp increase in oil prices.

"The IMF wants President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia, where most of the commonwealth's oil is produced, to raise petroleum prices to 10 to 15 times their present level, and they have already quadrupled in the last week.

"Such a rise would increase gasoline and heating-oil supplies by pricing them beyond the reach of many people--a measure not tried in the old Soviet Union."

In other words, the IMF is now openly dictating economic policy to Russia and presumably the other republics. (We won't refer to the so-called "commonwealth"--it is only a group of counter-revolutionaries who have seized the governmental apparatus. To refer to them as the commonwealth concedes legitimacy to the counterrevolution, which was a usurpation of power.)

What is the IMF? It is the concentrated financial power of the imperialist bourgeoisie of the whole world. It is the instrument by which it has obtained economic and in most cases political domination over all the oppressed countries of the world.

The IMF controls the financial levers of a given country, telling them how much to spend and how much to save. Most Third World countries as a result are deep in debt and their debtor position worsens each year. If a country the size of the USSR, with its enormous natural and industrial resources, should become indebted to the tune of $65 billion and must borrow to pay interest on the debt, there can only be one explanation: the governing group has become completely subordinate to the will of the imperialist bankers. They in turn are working hand in glove with the U.S. government.

The IMF was founded in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944. The U.S. sponsored it because it was the only country to come out of the Second World War virtually unscathed. The purpose was to stabilize the currencies of the imperialist allies.

But instead it turned out to be the means to achieve hegemony within the imperialist camp and control the economies of the Third World. The IMF decides what economic programs, what social and even political legislation should be enacted. In order to get credit from the IMF or World Bank, the given country's books have to be inspected by staff officials from the bank or the IMF. They specify the conditions of the loan and "recommend" how the operations of the economic and financial system should be conducted.

To think that the USSR should submit to such conditions in the name of educating its personnel on how to transform socialist projects into competitive, private entities! It is submitting to colonial subjugation. How else can it be explained?

Of course, these plans have not yet been executed. But it is reported that $35 billion worth of gold bullion has already been transferred out of the country, either to pay for imports, defray expenses or pay interest on loans. This in a country that before Gorbachev was considered the most credit-worthy in the world. Private banks competed with each other to tender loans to the USSR.

We have written extensively on how the counterrevolution has not yet succeeded in destroying the social foundations of the USSR--the socialized properties and enterprises. But if this goes on for any length of time without resistance strong enough to oust the counterrevolutionary governing group, then of course the process of restoring capitalism will ultimately succeed.

Superficial democracy

With all the talk of democracy and freedom of choice and so on, were the people of the Soviet Union--the workers and peasants--ever given an opportunity to vote on the fundamental issue? Were they ever given a clear choice: to vote for either capitalism or socialism? Was it ever clearly stated that that's what the choice was?

On the contrary, the masses were never given a direct political choice between capitalism and socialism. That was never presented to them. The capitalist reforms were smuggled in on glittering promises of plenty instead of scarcity. The matter of raising prices was never submitted to a referendum. Neither was the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Some of the republics voted for independence, but they did not disaffiliate from the USSR.

The USSR was broken up not by the will of the masses but by unscrupulous renegade socialists.

This does not exhaust the problem. It does not answer all the questions, nor can that be done at this time.

It is necessary first to thoroughly examine the objective situation in order to understand the inner regression, the rise of bureaucratism, the erosion of revolutionary spirit, repression, the forced character of collectivization, the decimation of both left and right tendencies in the party.

The cold war and capitalist restructuring

During the long decades of the cold war, under the military and economic pressure of imperialism, the leaders of the USSR felt the urgency to expand its geopolitical influence. While this strengthened the USSR on the one hand, it weakened it economically. It contracted to do more in its external affairs--or gave the appearance that it did. In reality it could not sustain it.

Seen in retrospect, launching Sputnik in 1957 was a tremendous advance in science that demonstrated the prowess and viability of a planned economy and its superiority over capitalism. But at the same time it was an enormous diversion of the USSR's resources from the consumer sector to the military-industrial complex. It impeded orderly development and the indispensable balance between agriculture and industry.

It also enhanced the political influence of the upper layers, especially those engaged in higher technology, at the expense of the proletariat and lower echelons. It reinforced social inequality.

While there are broad historic forces that must be overcome to build socialism in a Third World country, there are also immediate reasons why the counterrevolution captured the governing apparatus in the USSR. The most important one was the leap taken by capitalist development in the U.S.--the development of the scientific-technological revolution.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the U.S. launched an extremely intensive restructuring of capitalist industry. Its essence was a most onerous anti-labor offensive that rivals the struggles of the 19th century. It all began with the Carter administration and has continued through three successive terms of Reagan and Bush. (See "High Tech, Low Pay" by Sam Marcy, WW Publishers)

Restructuring became a world phenomenon. It swept the USSR into a competitive race that took an enormous toll on the mass of the population, coming as it did on top of the burdens of the military-nuclear challenge by U.S. imperialism. The planned economy has a certain pace precisely because it is based on planning. It can't suddenly change its tempo in response to external pressures. That disrupts the planning. The leadership in particular has to be on guard and awake to all the possibilities of imperialist intrigue, from the military challenge to such matters as the development of the computer revolution. Unfortunately, the USSR got a very late start in the computer revolution and underestimated its significance. Moreover, the imperialists maintained a tight blockade that kept out high technology, even what other countries routinely pirate.

The USSR leadership proved unequal to the task of maintaining the social system in the light of this furious offensive, which eventually undermined the position of the workers.

Red Flag will rise again

The counterrevolution has hauled down the Red Flag, the flag of the oppressed, of the workers. Even in ancient times, the Red Flag was the emblem of the slave rebellions. It symbolized the red blood that flows in the veins of all humanity, with no distinction as to race or nationality, sex or social position.

How fitting that the Yeltsins have raised the blue flag. For centuries it was the flag of oppression, representing the "blue blood" that is supposed to distinguish aristocrats from the common folk.

The Red Flag has been taken down many, many times before, only to be hoisted again. Why? Because it is the flag of the oppressed, the flag of those deprived of their freedom, their nationality, their labor, who are forced into slavery and eventually into rebellion. We see it raised now by the crowds protesting in Red Square. It will be raised again in a thousand places as the workers' struggle for socialist emancipation revives across the breadth of the Soviet Union.

[This article is dedicated to Dorothy Ballan--beloved wife, comrade, fighter for women's rights, and determined and consistent revolutionary. Her dedication to the cause of the working class and her personal support have made my life and work possible. --Sam Marcy]



Main menu Yearly menu