Chapter 3


Gorbachev speech to UN discovers "universal human values." Does scientific-technological revolution invalidate or confirm Marxist view of class struggle? The theory that socialism and capitalism are "converging." Sakharov's influence on Gorbachev's thinking. How only one side is doing the converging. Gorbachev on the "world economy." Engels on world market of the late 15th century. Global interdependence and capitalist exploitation. Need for a socialist commonwealth of nations. Capitalist anarchy of production can't be controlled, it can only be abolished.

On December 7, 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev delivered a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York which demonstrated that perestroika was central to his world view.

Of course, it would have been more in line with how a communist should conduct himself if he had had someone else present his views on that particular occasion--the Plenary Meeting of the 43rd Session of the UN General Assembly--since the U.S. government had just refused a visa to Yassir Arafat and had also made it impossible for beleaguered Nicaragua to send its delegation. Nevertheless, Gorbachev took the occasion to make a speech that raised many international issues and a number of important proposals dealing with armaments and weapons systems. On the points he raised concerning state-to-state matters, the world bourgeoisie will either agree or disagree depending on concrete matters of substance to them. We don't think it necessary to address these issues, which can be broadly construed as within the sphere of diplomacy.

However, Gorbachev did not confine himself to such matters. He threw in a virtual renunciation of the world class struggle, of Marxism's principal tenets and world conceptions. He took it on himself to present a sociological thesis on world history and social developments that proposed to answer the question, "What will mankind be like when it enters the 21st century?" His answer projected a fantastic new world order which would have been fitting for a bourgeois liberal from one of the capitalist countries, but was altogether out of place and contrary to what a communist leader ought to say in such a situation. Nor had this new world historic view been approved first by any conference or congress of the Soviet Communist Party.

We cannot repeat his whole speech here, but will quote especially from those sections dealing with "universal human values":

Today, we have entered an era when progress will be shaped by universal human interests.

The awareness of this dictates that world politics, too, should be guided by the primacy of universal human values.

The history of past centuries and millennia was a history of wars that raged almost everywhere, of frequent desperate battles to the point of mutual annihilation.

They grew out of clashes of social and political interests, national enmity, ideological or religious incompatibility. All this did happen.

And even today many would want these vestiges of the past to be accepted as immutable law.

But concurrently with wars, animosities and divisions among peoples and countries, another trend, with equally objective causes, was gaining momentum--the process of the emergence of a mutually interrelated and integral world.

Today, further world progress is only possible through a search for universal human consensus as we move forward to a new world order. . . .1

We are, of course, far from claiming to be in possession of the ultimate truth. But, on the basis of a thorough analysis of the past and newly emerging realities, we have concluded that it is on those lines that we should jointly seek the way leading to the supremacy of the universal human idea over the endless multitude of centrifugal forces, the way to preserve the vitality of this civilization, possibly the only one in the entire Universe.2 [Emphasis in original.]

Where is it true that we are entering an era in which world politics are shaped by universal human interests? Can this be seen in the attitude of the U.S. toward Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, Afghanistan, South Africa, the Philippines, the Middle East? Of course, the extreme right in the bourgeois camp interpret this view as nothing more than a communist trick. The more moderate among the bourgeoisie, while they welcome Gorbachev's renunciation of the class struggle, as they would say "at least on paper," are nevertheless giving up not one inch in the struggle, except insofar as some military reductions may be mutually advantageous. Nor have Reagan, Bush, Thatcher, Mitterrand, or other imperialist leaders responded to this speech with any concessions on bourgeois ideology and their world view.

There is not today and never has been any consensus on what universal human interests are. Each class and each social grouping evaluates human interests from its own point of view. If Gorbachev knows of classes and groups which have surrendered their interests in deference to universal human values, it would be very illuminating to learn of them.

Any bourgeois historian will tell you that "The history of past centuries and millennia was a history of wars that raged almost everywhere, of frequent desperate battles to the point of mutual annihilation." It is the most superficial of generalizations. It is difficult to find a historical summary anywhere, even in bourgeois texts, which so completely disregards the opening sentence of Part I of the Communist Manifesto: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."3

What Marx did was to show the motive force behind these struggles. The springboard for them all was class antagonism, the class struggle of the exploiters and oppressors on one side and the oppressed on the other. Nobody has put it better than did Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto: "Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." 4

According to Gorbachev, these struggles are not class struggles at all. If they are, he didn't mention it. He said they "grew out of clashes of social and political interests, national enmity, ideological or religious incompatibility." But all of Marxism teaches that national enmity, ideological and religious incompatibility are merely manifestations of class interest, and not the other way around. All these clashes, including imperialist wars, grow out of contradictory class interests, out of the division of society into antagonistic classes and into oppressing imperialist nations versus oppressed peoples. Perhaps the UN is not the forum to express all this. But then it was Gorbachev's choice to present a sociological thesis to the UN. Having done so, it was necessary to put it in the Marxist context.

Had all of this been said by a representative of some other state, let us say the prime minister of New Zealand, Indonesia or Brazil, it would not merit one iota of attention because it is so much bourgeois liberal dogma that has been smashed to smithereens hundreds of times by Marxists and Leninists over a period of decades. But it must be dealt with now, if only because the views represented in this thesis come from the head of the Soviet Union, where Marxism is a state doctrine and hence what he says is regarded as a representation of Marxism. It would be altogether different if one could say, well, this is just a diplomatic maneuver to conciliate the imperialist bourgeoisie. However, they show no inclination whatever to be conciliated by any kind of political document. Indeed, virtually at the same time that Gorbachev was in New York for this speech, the U.S. government unveiled the Stealth bomber. Shortly thereafter Reagan dispatched a naval armada to the Mediterranean, opened an offensive naval action against Libya and shot down two of its reconnaissance planes.

Gorbachev spoke of "the emergence of a mutually interrelated and integral world." This is a bourgeois cliche which has been repeated over and over but does more to confuse than to enlighten about trends in the contemporary world. There is no question that spectacular advances in electronics, aerospace and countless other developments have demonstrated that the scientific and technological revolution is of a global character. All this is particularly evident in mass communication. People can now speak to and see each other around the globe, can send messages back and forth with a speed unheard of only a decade ago. Indeed, it was Marshall McLuhan who quite a number of years ago expressively described the contemporary world as a global village. However, this has not alleviated or diminished the class character of the village, the existence of rich and poor, of boss and worker, landlord and peasant, exploiter and exploited.

Does the scientific-technological revolution soften and moderate the class struggle? Or does it in reality aggravate it? Does it not in fact accentuate the limitless, predatory search for higher and higher profits?

Hasn't the scientific-technological revolution, this so-called new interdependence of an integral world, resulted in impoverishing the greater portion of humanity while enriching the most powerful, predatory multinational corporations? Haven't the last two decades proven conclusively that the entire technological and scientific apparatus is mostly at the service of the military-industrial complex, that whatever integration, whatever interdependence has occurred has made the poorer countries not less but more dependent upon the rich imperialist ones?

Gorbachev confuses sociology with technology, making it appear that one invalidates the other. This has been a favorite theme of liberal bourgeois theoreticians over the years, that technological progress on a world scale and the mutually interrelated processes in both systems make for their integration into a world system, a system where world socialism is happily liquidated into the bourgeois system!

Where does all this come from? It has its origin in the idea of the convergence of the two social systems. That idea is as old, perhaps, as the Soviet Union itself.

It especially came into currency in the period of the mid-1930s, when the USSR was making advances, some of them of an extraordinary character, while the capitalist world was undergoing a severe economic crisis. Under the pressure of revolutionary threats from the working class, some of the capitalist countries adopted significant economic reforms. There was the New Deal in the U.S. In France, there was the struggle against the Forty Families as well as the nationalizations forced on the Popular Front government. After the war, the Labor Party in Britain carried out nationalizations and introduced broad reforms in health and other social services.

All this lent credence to the idea that capitalism was reforming itself. New progressive social legislation and the takeover of bankrupt capitalist enterprises by the state in order to revive them seemed like socialist measures. To many it seemed that "democratic capitalism" was undergoing an inherent change in its driving forces. They couldn't explain, however, why Hitler and Mussolini had taken almost identical measures, only to enforce corporate, fascist control.

In the Soviet Union, after the death of Stalin in 1953, there arose a like-minded school of thought led by the physicist Andrei Sakharov, who saw a similar trend, but in reverse fashion, occurring in the Soviet Union. He developed the theory of convergence. Much later his thesis was published in the West.5 Sakharov urged a rapprochement with the capitalist world that would rest "not only on a socialist, but on a popular, democratic foundation," which would imply not only "wide social reforms in the capitalist countries" but in the socialist ones as well.6

There are no grounds for asserting, as is often done in the dogmatic vein, that the capitalist mode of production leads the economy into a blind alley or that it is inferior to the socialist mode in labor productivity, and there are certainly no grounds for asserting that capitalism always leads to absolute impoverishment of the working class. . . .7

But the facts suggest that there is real economic progress in the United States and other capitalist countries, that the capitalists are actually using the social principles of socialism, and that there has been real improvement in the position of the working people. More important, the facts suggest that on any other course except ever-increasing coexistence and collaboration between the two systems and the two superpowers, with a smoothing of contradictions and with mutual assistance, on any other course annihilation awaits mankind. There is no other way out. . . .8

The development of modern society in both the Soviet Union and the United States is now following the same course of increasing complexity of structure and of industrial management, giving rise in both countries to managerial groups that are similar in social character.

We must therefore acknowledge that there is no qualitative difference in the structure of society of the two countries in terms of distribution of consumption.9

Hence, convergence of the two systems is the proper and inevitable course.

A careful reading of this shows that today Gorbachev is following precisely this line--the line of Sakharov, the leader of the bourgeois opposition in the USSR. Gorbachev is openly collaborating with Sakharov, sending him on missions to Armenia and the U.S.

Of course, the publication of Sakharov's thesis in 1968 came on the heels of a tremendous general strike in France, a virtual revolution which won basic economic concessions similar to those won earlier in the 1930s by mass popular uprisings. Similar gains were made in Britain and other European countries. The 1960s were also a period of tremendous upsurge in the United States, characterized by the great demonstrations of Black and Latino people, the student, women's, and lesbian and gay movements. Although saddled with a conservative leadership, the unions were able to chalk up significant economic gains while the ruling class was overwhelmed with the Vietnam war.

Sakharov attributes all these gains won in struggle by the masses to the generosity, the innately progressive character of the ruling class!

Since Sakharov wrote his profound thesis, which system has converged on which? Once the Vietnam war began to wind down, the U.S. capitalist economy experienced first a contraction in 1973-74, then a really big crisis in 1979-82. Many of the gains that had been made were taken back. The decline in workers' incomes has been devastating throughout the capitalist world. The Reagans, Thatchers, Mitterrands and Chiracs led the assault. Many of the nationalized industries that had been called "socialist" all these years were privatized, sold off to individual capitalists or groups after the sweat and blood of the workers had made these bankrupt companies solvent. Today the ruling class in the U.S. is richer than ever. There are more millionaires and billionaires at the expense of staggering homelessness and a poverty rate higher than the 1960s. Does Sakharov think the USSR should be converging in this direction?

Nine-tenths of his thesis is calculated to frighten the working class with the spectre of nuclear war. But it hasn't at all frightened the imperialist bourgeoisie, who have used this period to rearm and modernize their industry, especially the military-industrial complex. For all the tremendous anti-nuclear conferences with their prestigious scientific personnel, they never seem to frighten the military-industrial complex. Whatever their subjective aim, their result is to frighten the working class and oppressed people into making concessions, while the bourgeoisie make none.

Gorbachev's UN speech included his view on the world economy:

. . . the scientific and technological revolution has turned many economic, food, energy, environmental, information and population problems, which only recently we treated as national or regional ones, into global problems.

Thanks to the advances in mass media and means of transportation, the world seems to have become more visible and tangible. International communication has become easier than ever before.

Today, the preservation of any kind of "closed" societies is hardly possible. This calls for a radical review of approaches to the totality of the problems of international cooperation as a major element of universal security.

The world economy is becoming a single organism, and no state, whatever its social system or economic status, can normally develop outside it.10

Since he acknowledges that there are both capitalist and socialist systems, how can the world economy be defined as a single organism? In Marxism, as opposed to bourgeois economics, the analysis of a social phenomenon always begins with its class definition. The world economy is a phenomenon, to be sure, but what is its class definition, or doesn't it have any? It is a capitalist economy. If, as he says, the world economy is a single organism, it must, like every other organism, have a function. Neither nature nor society knows of any organism which is bereft of a function. The function of the world capitalist economy is capitalist profit and super-profit in the epoch of imperialism. Can this be denied? Gorbachev says no state can develop outside it. What does this mean? That the socialist countries had better get in it and be absorbed by it or face extinction?

It should be made clear that when Stalin propounded his unfortunate theory of socialism in one country, he demonstrated that he was not bound by it in practice. The truth of the matter is that after a short period of isolation, the Soviet Union tried to break out economically. But the bourgeoisie then, as now, were united on that score and refused to cooperate with the USSR except on the basis that it surrender its economic sovereignty, either piecemeal or whole. Isn't that what imperialist policy is now? So while Stalin was wrong in his theoretical formulation, that's no justification for now opening wide the gates of the socialist countries, particularly the smaller ones, to be absorbed by the imperialists in the fond hope that there will be a convergence of interests.

Do we see any convergence of General Electric in the U.S. with its counterpart in Britain, where they are about to consolidate a giant multinational corporation? Rather, a fierce, cutthroat struggle is raging in the European Economic Community. Why, when they are carrying out an economic war among themselves, would they generously open the door to another possible competitor, especially one which still maintains a centralized, socialist, planned economy? Or must it first be surrendered before the USSR can enter the temples of capital?

So much has been written of late about interdependence that it has become a banality in the economic literature of the bourgeoisie--as though the world market had arrived on the scene just in time for the Gorbachev "new thinkers" to eagerly join it. Yet nearly a century ago, Frederick Engels, in a letter to Karl Kautsky, then the leading European socialist theoretician after Marx and Engels, criticized Kautsky for his failure to recognize the existence of the world market at the end of the 15th century!11

Even that long ago, the economies of a number of countries were interdependent. Soon this world market had widened to virtually encircle the globe, and particularly involved trade among Europe, Africa and the Western Hemisphere. What was a vital function of that world market? The capture and sale of slaves as a form of capitalist investment.

It was the slave trade that developed the world capitalist market, that made Britain and the Southern colonies dependent upon each other while the North was becoming dependent upon capitalist finance from Britain and Holland. The tremendous development of technology (about which Gorbachev speaks so well) did not abolish or diminish the search for capitalist super-profits. No, it heightened and aggravated the class struggle and made the search for super-profits all the more imperious. To confuse the spectacular development of technology with a softening of the class struggle sends a false message to the working class and the billions of oppressed people throughout the world.

As early as 1825, the first universal capitalist crisis proved the existence of interdependence and integration in the capitalist economy. Every capitalist crisis since then has re-emphasized it.

What is the scientific-technological revolution? In Marxist terms, it's the growth of the productive forces. The invention of the wheel was a technological feat. It was a tremendous leap forward in the growth of the productive forces. So are the development of electronics, space technology, biotechnology and so on. As Gorbachev himself says, the productive forces have grown so large that they transcend national borders and have become global. True enough! But what remains to be said is that the bulk of the productive forces, with the exception of those in the USSR, China and the other socialist countries, are privately owned. This growth of the productive forces is in conflict, not only with national borders, but with the social relations of production.

The contradiction between the private ownership of the productive forces and their organization on a vast social scale, involving hundreds of millions of people, is the fundamental contradiction in capitalist society. The forces of production have grown so enormous they threaten the environment, as he himself says. They also make impossible the existence of a closed society. That's for sure. There's no reason why a socialist country should have a closed society. It is correct to call for a review. But what kind of a review? It calls for a revolutionary reconstitution of the ownership of the giant productive forces. Of course, it's important to have international cooperation, but in the struggle to change the existing social relations, not to strengthen them.

Because the productive forces have grown so large, and exist in a multitude of states, the answer is a socialist commonwealth on a global scale. That's what modern technology dictates. But national barriers, maintained in the interest of capitalist private property, run counter to this and are a fundamental cause of imperialist wars. The bourgeois states at best form alliances among themselves only in order to combat their economic adversaries. The capitalist market subjugates even some of the most advanced countries. Look what has happened to Canada. The "free trade" agreement caused the main bourgeois opposition leader to explain that Canada has become a political colony of the U.S. because of its economic subjugation. The U.S. also wants to foster a common market with Mexico, which the Mexican government has properly rejected, as it would only strengthen Yankee economic domination.

The stupendous growth and development of the scientific-technological revolution has a frightening effect on humanity, and bourgeois politicians try to exploit this for their own ends. It's the duty of revolutionary Marxists to explain that the high-tech growth of the productive forces is injurious to all life on the planet only because it comes in the form of capital, whose origin dates back to the development of commodity production, when the exchange value of objects first became differentiated from their use value.

Explaining why there must be a new world order, Gorbachev says, "We have come to a point when the disorderly play of elemental forces leads into an impasse." 12

What are these disorderly elemental forces? They are the anarchy and chaos of capitalist production, which brings unemployment, poverty, crisis and war. They are beyond the control of the capitalist system and can only be eliminated on the basis of a socialist community of nations. It's the capitalist class that has come to an impasse. We Marxists have no way of organizing the uncontrolled forces of capitalist anarchy. It's not our job to join in any kind of effort to control or direct capitalist anarchy into other channels. Our aim is to abolish the anarchy of capitalist production by replacing it with a rational, socialist economy controlled by the working class and the oppressed peoples.

No really progressive elements in capitalist society, certainly no class-conscious workers or genuine socialists or communists, would ever object to the USSR or any other socialist country consummating an agreement with a capitalist government for the purpose of arms limitation or reduction, or for trade and commerce in the normal course of conducting state-to-state business. But is it necessary to throw in an antiquated, bourgeois liberal sociological thesis which does violence to the most elementary truths concerning the class nature of capitalism and the scientific discoveries of Marxism? Is this supposed to be a trading chip in order to break into the capitalist market in a big way? And are these ideological concessions really going to make any headway with the case-hardened, multinational chief executives and leaders of the military-industrial complex in the U.S.? Is this not to tread the beaten path of old social-democratic reformism?

Will this really and truly influence negotiations with the U.S. to lift the ban on trade? Will they be willing to extend credit on a normal basis, the way they do with bourgeois states? Will they remove the most favored nation ban and accord the USSR tariff equality? Early in 1989, the USSR revealed a 40-million-ton deficiency in its 1988 grain harvest. Will the new thesis soften the U.S. up in trade negotiations? Or will the bourgeoisie make the most of the difficulties in the USSR?

A workers' state may be a complex of many economic and social institutions, but its class basis is similar to that of an ordinary workers' organization like a union. The experience of working class organizations throughout the history of capitalism has been that, no matter what concessions they make, the capitalists gladly take them and are only hungry for more.


1. Address by Mikhail Gorbachev at the Plenary Meeting of the 43rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, December 7, 1988, pp. 4-5.

2. Ibid., p. 8.

3. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973), Vol. 1, p. 108.

4. Ibid., pp. 108-09.

5. Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1968).

6. Ibid., p. 79.

7. Ibid., p. 73.

8. Ibid., p. 74.

9. Ibid., p. 76.

10. Gorbachev, p. 2.

11. "You have not fully grasped Germany's place in the world market, her international economic position, in so far as it is possible to speak of it at the end of the fifteenth century. This position alone explains why the bourgeois-plebeian movement, which assumed a religious form, succumbed in England, the Netherlands and Bohemia, and succeeded to a certain extent in Germany in the sixteenth century. . . ." From Frederick Engels, The Peasant War in Germany (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), p. 177. (Emphasis in original.)

12. Gorbachev, p. 5.

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