Prof. van der Linden

b. 1952

Notes on “Western Marxism and the Soviet Union”, 2007

Chapter 1: intro

  • "The Russian question" is central to modern Marxism, our knowledge of revolution. The Russian question is a "simple" question about the social nature of the USSR, and the post-Soviet states, and leads ultimately to the question of "what is a revolution?" The import of "the Russian question" is the possibility of transition (revolution) from capitalism to socialism. But the author adopts a purely "academic" point of view, not partisan (socialist).
  • No one tried to make a comprehensive survey of Marxist thinking on this question. The author will attempt that. 
  • Goal of the study: "to present the development of the Western-Marxist critique of the Soviet Union across a rather long period in history (from 1917 to the present) and in a large region (Western Europe and North America)". & "how Marxists who were politically independent of the Soviet Union theoretically interpreted developments in the Soviet Union"
  1. Why limit oneself only to the critique from Marxists of imperialist countries? What about theories from the very countries where "socialism" was attempted? Not all authors from these countries were sycophants.
  2. To understand one phenomenon, many other similar phenomena have to be examined. Moreover, these phenomena need to be simpler, as we attempt to go from what is simple and well-known to what is complex and unclear. E.g. to understand the Russian revolution, we need to examine English and French revolutions, which are previous to the Russian, and hence "simpler". To understand the Soviet Union, we need also to examine the countries of the Eastern Europe, after WWII, China, etc.
  3. Critique of the USSR needs to be examined chronologically.

Chapter 2: 1917-1929

  • Kautsky - conducts a "crusade against bolshevism", argues that socialism is feasible only in a highly developed society
  1. Polemic of Kautsky against Trotsky: "one must have acquired something of the skills necessary to drive an engine before one tries to set it going. In the same way, the proletariat must have acquired those qualities which are indispensable for organization of production". I think: the more complex a task, the more theory and preparation (simulation) is necessary. E.g. steering a boat vs. flying an airplane. I assume that building a socialist society is the most complex task. Hence: 1) need for a well-developed theory; 2) need for simulations, tests, etc.
  2. Polemic against Bukharin. B. says: "A ruling class is always characterized by the fact that it possesses a monopoly over the means of production, or at least the most important means of production within a definite class order". Today, perhaps the most important means of production is knowledge and the ability to use it. E.g. a doctor with an ability to make a correct diagnosis of a sickness vs. the ones who are not able to identify the root of a medical problem.
  3. Intelligentsia is the mind of a class. If a society goes towards a classless society, "the mind" will give place to "the mind and the body". E.g. "The Philosopher" of Rodin.
  4. Soviet bureaucracy is proletarian, socialist in its origin.
  • Luxembourg criticized Bolsheviks. She was against self-determination of nations. I think: self-determination of Poland, Finland, meant that these former parts of the Russian empire became bourgeois states, i.e. turned against Russia and socialism. E.g. U.S. missiles now in Poland. Self-determination today means promoting counter-revolution in the backward nations.
  • Gyorgy Lukacs:
  1. A planned economy (socialism) can be built only after socialists break the old state and build the new state. But, pre-cursors for such an economy must already emerge within the old, capitalist system. Some of these are: 1) desire to give one's labor voluntarily to society (e.g. Wikipedia, etc.); 2) attempts at self-government (e.g. "Occupy" movement); 3) Technical means for global communication and information exchange (Internet, development of air and space travel, etc.); 4) projects that explicitly require global cooperation instead of separate states, wars, and competition; 5) pre-cursors to human emancipation (abolition of family, private property, religion); 6) universal health care, child care, education.
  2. Transitional societies are both restoring capitalism and building socialist relations.

Chapter 3: 1929-1941

  • "State capitalism" defined: "a market economy with major state intervention". The U.S. when it "saves" the biggest banks is an example of "state capitalism".
  • "An economy in which the state is the only “employer" is not state capitalism.
  • I think: former Soviet bureaucracy has tied itself to international finance and hence will not fight WWIII, in spite of its rhetoric. E.g. "Kursk" submarine. Maybe that's why it made sense to start (socialist) revolution in Russia.
  • An example of a logic of simpletons: Linde, 1932: "Because one cannot deny that private capitalism does not exist in the Soviet Union, but on the other hand one cannot affirm that socialism rules there, the only thing that remains is to say that it is state capitalist". 
  • Trotsky (one can say that progressive Marxism ends with him)
  1. The achievements of a violent social revolution could only be annulled by a violent counter-revolution
  2. The October revolution was a violent socialist revolution which resulted in a workers' state
  3. Therefore, so long as no violent counterrevolution has occurred, it remained necessary to characterize the Soviet Union as a deformed workers' state.
  4. USSR is a preparatory regime, transitional from capitalism to socialism
  • What makes for a socialist character of a society today?
  1. State dominance of the most important sectors of production (fuel, energy, metals, etc.);
  2. state dominance in health care and education sectors;
  3. state dominance in distribution of staple food (fixed prices for bread, sugar, etc.);
  4. state dominance in social sphere (youth, education, sports, pensions,  etc.)
  5. This state machine – army, police, judicial system, etc. - has originated in a socialist revolution. 
  • Let's accept that bureaucracy is a "cancerous growth that should be surgically removed". What are pre-conditions for that act?
  1. a demonstrated ability on the part of society to do without bureaucracy (not present)
  2. a new form of knowledge, superior to that of science (not present)
  3. a clandestine organization similar to that of Babeuf's "societe des saisons" (not present)
  4. a propitious international situation
  • Bureaucracy both created, led and eliminated planned economy. Hence, there are different kinds of bureaucracy.
  • The political state apparatus in the former USSR is 99% corrupt. Hence, it needs to be completely replaced - put on trial (the upper and middle echelons), fired and re-organized (the lower echelons). This operation should be similar to cleaning the clothes of a person contaminated with a virus. Meanwhile, social institutes – schools, clinics, the army, the militia, state enterprises, etc. - need to be re-designed, allowing for more self-government on the part of students, patients, workers, etc.
  • Shachtman - USSR is an example of an "unstable stability".

Chapter 4: 1941-1956

  • Trotsky was betrayed by about everyone. His widow, N. Sedova, in 1951 broke with the 4th International, arguing that the USSR can no longer be considered a workers' state (as Mandel held). His biographer, Is. Deutcher, became an apologist for Stalinism, arguing that the USSR would be able to democratize itself peacefully, in the course of industrialization.
  • "Bordiga considered the revolution of 1917 primarily as an anti-feudal, i.e. a bourgeois revolution, in which the bourgeoisie (to which the peasantry is also said to be allied) and the proletariat formed a temporary alliance". Clearly, question of the nature of the USSR leads to examining the question the nature of revolution itself.
  • Willy Huhn + Burnham: "the rise of the managers represented only the expression of what Marx had called 'the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production itself". These are lovers of a nice phrase without examining the facts.
  • E. Mandel (1923-1995) - "the most important postwar Trotskyist theoretician". "Against the theory of state capitalism, Mandel advanced as the main objection that the argument was a priorist. First, it was assumed that Russia was capitalist, and then analogies between capitalism and a workers' state were used to bolster the correctness of this assumption".

Ch.5: 1956-1968

  • M. Djilas notes:
  1. "the growing contradiction between the productive forces and relations of production".
  2. "Only those bureaucrats who possessed special privileges, as a result of their administrative monopoly, belonged to the new class"
  • H. Marcuse: "functional differences between base and superstructure tend to be obliterated" in countries like the Soviet Union. Hence, the whole philosophy of "material basis" determining "the political superstructure" is obliterated.
  • "the period 1956-68 marked an almost complete theoretical stagnation of Western Marxism"(!)

Ch. 6: 1968-85

  • The approach of G. Boffa (history of the Soviet Union) is better than all these "theoreticians". I.e. when there is a crisis of a theory, return to empiricism.
  • George Novack - a trotskyist philosopher, "the concept of the 'degenerated workers' state' was increasingly abandoned in favor of the term 'transitional society'... there had been many 'transitional formations' in the history of the human society".
  • Simon Mohun (b. 1949) -  suggests"two stages in the transition from capitalism to communism". 1) Nationalisation of the means of production; 2) socialisation.
  • Anti-intellectualism is one of the reasons why capitalism is doomed
  • Chris Arthur (b. 1940) - a British philosopher: "in a nationalised economy, the strict separation between political and economic spheres was no longer possible... the bureaucratic elite, for that reason, not only possessed political power but also economic power"
  • Central planning became impossible because of:
  1. theft of state resources, “privatizations”
  2. lack of democracy, eliminating enthusiasm and feedback
  • Johann Eggert, W. Germany: "the power of the ruling 'quasi-class' was created by the division between intellectual and manual labor, which, until now, has been the cause of bureaucratisation of all workers' organizations and workers' states". Therefore, the next form of knowledge must overcome the following dichotomies, at first theoretically, then in practice:
  1. "intellectual" and "manual" labor
  2. "politics" and "economics"
  3. "male" and "female" labor
  4. "city" and "country"
  5. "central plan" and "local initiative"
  6. state property and private property
  • Rudi Dutschke (1940-79) "had not really analyzed Russia... [but] engaged in 'quotation mongering' and adopted an 'unhistorical' and 'dogmatic' method of working"
  • The USSR and now Russia is continually under external threat, and hence "siege” neurosis, "spy” neurosis, and now “orange revolution” neurosis.  
  • Altvater, Elmar, 1981: "The act of socialization initiates the transition from the bourgeois primacy of economics to the primacy of politics".

Chapter 7: 1985-> present

  • I think no political anti-bureaucratic revolution in the ex-USSR is possible under capitalist pressure. Hence, there is a need for a social revolution in the West, before the revolution can continue in the East.
  • After 1991, "substantially the same people in power who had also ruled in the Soviet Union"
  • Resnick and Wolff, state capitalists, argue that 1917 was not a revolution but a reform. Hence, this debate touches upon the very question of "what is a revolution?"
  • E. Mandel, 1985: "the Soviet Union and similar societies are experiencing the beginning of transformation of portions of bureaucracy into a 'ruling class' - not a 'new bureaucratic ruling class' but the old well-known class of capitalist and private owners of the means of production". Restoration could occur only after a social and economic defeat of the working class, but his has not yet taken place.
  • Those, who characterize USSR as a pre-capitalist formation, like the Estonian Eero Loone, argue that "an advance towards capitalism would be a good thing in the USSR". Hence, a criteria for judging Soviet movies of early 1980's.
  • Classical Marxism: "capitalism entered its phase of decline with the outbreak of WWI"
  • F. Behrens (1909-80) argues that for bureaucracy "the chief privilege is the monopoly over information". But the rise of Internet undercuts this.

Ch. 8: Conclusion

  • "not a single theory of state capitalism succeeded in being both orthodox-Marxist a well as consistent with the facts"
  • Mandel: "in the scales of history, the question remains as Trotsky posed it in 1939"
  • Trotsky was critical of bureaucracy. But it is also correct that w/out the bureaucracy there would be no industrialization. Therefore, the bureaucracy is in part parasitic, and in part productive. Sometimes, it is both parasitic and productive in the same person.
  • A paradox: in a Soviet-type society, no ruling class in a strict sense can be identified.
  1. working class - suppressed by the bureaucracy
  2. bureaucracy - not a class proper, it is a bureaucracy of the working class
  3. oligarchs - created by bureaucracy, but also suppressed by it (e.g. M. Khodorkovsky)
  • Subordination of economy to politics, in trans. societies, implies that politics should be treated first.
  • "Knowledge" is the basis of rule in the future society. But "knowledge" = intellectual + manual labor. Hence: 1) the importance of “a Map of knowledge”, 2) an approach to life that incorporates both practical and theoretical knowledge.

Ch.9: Meta-theory

  • What is "the revolutionary subject" in the period of decay of capitalism and Stalinism? What is the revolutionary subject in "the information society"? I believe this can only be "knowledge", in the sense defined above, i.e. "can do" men and women.
  • Most important principles and observations:
  1. Principle 1: "A violent proletarian revolution is a necessary condition, for the establishment of a workers' state". Hence, "a revolution" = 1) a destruction of the old state machine; 2) an introduction of a new state machine, or a social structure with similar functions and powers. It follows, logically, that a revolution can be "brought on the tanks", as in Eastern Europe, in 1945 (the former state destroyed, a new one introduced by an army of a workers' state). To distinguish a "revolution" from a "counterrevolution" (as has happened in Afghanistan in 1992), we need to add that a revolution is introduced by a socially progressive power, be that a Soviet state, as in 1945, or a Bolshevik party, as in 1917. Taliban we judge as more regressive than progressive (progressive because it represents a struggle of the native population against a foreign domination, regressive because it stands for Islamism, i.e. elements of feudalism, and capitalism).
  2. Principle 2: "A violent anti-proletarian revolution is a necessary condition for the dissolution of a workers' state". This has not happened in the former USSR, or states of Eastern Europe. This has happened in Afghanistan in 1992, and previously in Paris in 1871.
  3. Observation 2: "Eastern European countries have become identical in nature to USSR during 1947-50". Almost all authors forget Mongolia, since 1921.
  4. Observation 4: no violent anti-proletarian revolution occurred in USSR, or in Eastern Europe, in 1989-93.

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