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The USSR yesterday and today
« on: February 12, 2017, 12:22:42 pm »
           Lest we forget--The USSR yesterday and today

                           By Sam Marcy

It is easy to be a cheerleader for a newly won historic victory.
It is something else to endure a monumental setback and yet retain
one's revolutionary socialist perspective.

On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union became the first country in
world history to successfully launch an earth satellite. The
launching of Sputnik achieved what will probably go down as the
greatest scientific achievement of the century. It electrified the
world. It showed what a workers' and peasants' government could
do. Moreover, this feat was accomplished in a country which just
40 years earlier at the time of the revolution had had an economic
and technological level among the lowest in the world, due in
large measure to the devastation caused by foreign military
intervention, internal sabotage by the bourgeoisie, insurrection
and widespread political reaction fomented and directed from

After this unprecedented scientific development, the Soviet Union
offered the West in general and the U.S. in particular cooperation
in outer space as against destructive competition. The ruling
class in the U.S. had been taken completely by surprise. Rather
than take it in stride and explore the possibilities of joint or
indeed world cooperation, the U.S. ruling class scornfully turned
down the offer and moved swiftly in an opposite direction.

It set off alarm bells, claiming the U.S. faced disaster unless
the world scientific community in general and the U.S. military-
industrial complex in particular were revamped to achieve
superiority over the USSR, not only in this specialized field of
outer space, but in all-around military capability. Thus it
embarked upon a giant program to militarize space, combined with a
new vastly enlarged nuclear program. It all added up to an all-out
effort to achieve total domination on the ground, on the high
seas, in the air and, above all, in outer space.

The dimension and significance of this sharp turn in the U.S.
military program is rarely given the prominence it merits in light
of the consequences it held for the USSR.

Whoever achieves dominance in space, said the Pentagon, will
dominate the planet. Such was the response of the U.S. to what was
a peaceful, scientific achievement of the USSR won on the basis of
hard-earned socialist construction.

Disrupted socialist planning

The effect of the Pentagon's new military program of total
domination was to disrupt long- as well as short-term socialist
planning in the USSR. From then on the USSR had to revise its
plans and recalculate how to utilize its vital but meager
resources to continue socialist construction.

It also strengthening elements of the Soviet industrial,
technological and military establishment who feared the
consequences of lagging behind the U.S. in military and scientific
development. This included both those who were conciliatory to
U.S.  imperialism and those who were determined not to let their
country fall behind lest, once overtaken decisively, the USSR
would become a victim of U.S. aggression.

However one may interpret the post-Sputnik era and its truly
magnificent achievements, it can now be seen that it was quite
impossible for the USSR to achieve a "balance of terror," as some
bourgeois politicians called it, without falling dangerously behind
in social policy responsible for the well-being of the overwhelming
majority of workers and peasants.

As for U.S. imperialism, it mobilized virtually the entire world
capitalist scientific establishment to support the U.S. cold war
effort, just as in World War II when the U.S. achieved a
preeminent position on the basis of enlisting scientists for the
Manhattan Project from all over the world--such as Albert
Einstein, Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard.

All the world knows and should not forget that the USSR offered
many times to mitigate the nuclear race. One need only remember
that the USSR stopped atmospheric and underground testing years
ago. The U.S. continues underground testing to this very day.

Rise of counter-revolution

How should we regard the colossal setback in the USSR and the
victory of the counter-revolutionary grouping? It is not the
definitive end of the great historic epoch of world revolution
ushered in by the victorious October socialist revolution. It is
merely a phase in the continuing world class struggle.

Practically no one expected the collapse of the Soviet Union to
come with such suddenness, with virtually no opposition. Of
course, it was only the last phase of a long series of historic
retreats.  But they were not as consequential as the collapse of
the USSR itself.

However, the debacle in the USSR comes precisely at a historic
turning point in the fortunes of imperialism. For more than half a
century, militarism has artificially stimulated capitalist
development. The defeat of the Axis powers did not usher in the
promised world peace but brought about one counter-revolutionary
military intervention after another, until this very day. The cost
of this was on top of the military expenditures to finance
imperialism's cold war against the USSR.

A new capitalist economic crisis emerged just prior to the U.S.
intervention in Iraq. The war was calculated, very coldly and
deliberately, as a stimulus to reverse the sharply downward trend
in the capitalist economy. All sectors of the capitalist class
gambled on it. But even while this genocidal war was still
underway, it became plain that the stimulus wasn't working.

Has militarism run its course historically as an economic
stimulus?  It served imperialism well at the time of the Korean
war and again later with the war against Vietnam. It worked again
a decade later when the U.S. set up a super armada to subdue
uprisings in the Middle East and guard the fabulous profits
derived from its oil booty.

But none of these were substitutes for a really great war. Even
the lunatics in the Pentagon can only dream of such a long-term
project. That takes a long stretch of the imagination which would
involve first militarizing Japan and Germany, and possibly a new,
thorough-going neocolonialist USSR.

The basic problem

Capitalism's long-term problem is that its productive forces,
which are organized on a socialized basis, are in conflict with
its method of private appropriation. The private ownership of the
means of production is in conflict with the social aspect of
capitalist production. Private ownership limits the further
development of capitalism, which is at last running out of
artificial stimulants.

Marx's premise that this insoluble contradiction between
socialized production and private ownership will reach its
ultimate crisis is at last emerging and cannot be talked away by
bourgeois economists.

The need to fight against discrimination on the basis of race, sex
and sexual preference is of course paramount as immediate demands.
But the time has come to expose the fundamental contradiction of
capitalism and to pose the socialist alternative as the only
possible one which can achieve full employment, peace and

However, no sooner do we pose the socialist alternative than the
question of the USSR comes up. Then it is most incumbent upon us
to show what the USSR as a workers' state achieved during its
brief revolutionary period and what the prognosis is as of today.

First surviving workers' republic

With the Russian Revolution, a republic of workers and peasants
for the first time survived both external counter-revolution and
internal reaction, sabotage and insurrection. Its durability and
its apparent stability were considered its most remarkable
features. The only previous example of a workers' state was the
heroic 1871 Paris Commune, which lasted scarcely three months
before being drowned in blood.

During all those years from 1871 to 1917 the lessons of the
Commune seemed to have been lost. The reformists drew the
conclusion that violence was not the answer, forgetting in the
meantime that it was the bourgeoisie that had provoked the
violence. Is that not always the case? It was the capitalist war
between France and Germany in 1870 that brought on the objective
basis for the establishment of the Paris Commune.

During the Franco-Prussian war, when Paris had been reduced to a
shambles, the bourgeoisie fled to Versailles, leaving the workers
saddled with the destruction and unrestrained violence. So the
workers took over the city. Their political parties got together
and established the Commune to run the affairs of the city in the
interest of the working population and not in the interest of the
bourgeoisie. The workers saw an opportunity to take over because
the bourgeoisie got itself involved in a war, one of many wars it
regularly conducts for its own profits.

Lessons of Paris Commune

The bourgeois press and its ideologues drew one lesson from the
Commune: The communards should not have taken up arms. But in fact
it was the armed violence of the bourgeoisie which forced the
communards to fight back. Yet this elementary truth was and
continues to be buried by all bourgeois politicians, including
many social democrats. The Commune began to be seen as an object
lesson of what the workers should not do during a war rather than
what they should do.

Lenin and his co-thinkers in Germany and France reversed this. He
brought out the truth, which helped him clarify what was going on
in Russia. The Czarist government, together with France, Germany,
England and later the U.S., was conducting a capitalist war of
unparalleled ferocity. More than 20 million lives were lost in the
First World War.

Unlike France and the Paris Commune, the Russian workers had
developed a strong, disciplined and profoundly revolutionary party
that had a clear vision of what the bourgeoisie could sink to. The
Bolshevik Party had absorbed the lesson of the 1905 Russian
Revolution in which the Czarist government, like the French
government earlier, had drowned the workers in blood.

They knew that the politicians could speak endlessly about
democracy, freedom and peace but were in reality tied to the
bourgeoisie and were determined to continue the capitalist war,
which was making fabulous profits for the bankers and the bosses
while bringing more poverty and misery at home and more casualties
at the front.

Lenin knew well the lesson of the Paris Commune, not to trust the
bourgeois politicians or give credence to their promises. He urged
the Russian workers and peasants in military uniforms as well as
the Germans, French and others to stop killing each other, to
declare peace and fraternize instead. It was the boldest
revolutionary slogan ever brought to the workers' attention. It
terrorized the bourgeoisie everywhere. This slogan was an update
of Karl Marx's slogan in the Communist Manifesto--"Workers of the
world, unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains." It was
later referred to as the "defeatist" slogan.

Almost immediately it took hold among millions of Russian soldiers
and sailors. It paralyzed the bourgeoisie and disrupted the
military and diplomatic plans of the Czarist government. As in
Paris, when the bourgeoisie was involved in a war with another
capitalist power, the workers had an opportunity to set up their
own Communes in the principal cities. They were called Soviets.

What could the workers do? They had three alternatives. One was to
continue the war. Another was to waver and continue endless
negotiations while the situation was steadily deteriorating and
the reactionary Czarist wing of the bourgeoisie, headed by General
Kornilov, was preparing to do to the Russian workers what the
French bourgeoisie had done to the Commune with such unparalleled

Revolutionary alternative

But Lenin and the Bolsheviks had a third alternative. They were
wise to the danger. They weren't taken in by the smooth talking of
the bourgeois politicians or by the minority of social democrats
called Mensheviks, who were all too eager, some of them naively
so, to compromise and believe in the promises of the capitalist

In the meantime, the reactionary bourgeois Czarist military
leaders were secretly mobilizing their military supporters to
attack Moscow and St. Petersburg and destroy the Soviets.

This was a great turning point in world history. The Bolsheviks
got there first, aided by the revolutionary workers and peasants.
Their leadership organized itself, selected a Revolutionary
Military Committee with the aim of overthrowing the oppressive and
exploitative Czarist government and sending its smooth-talking,
lying and deceptive politicians packing. The Czar and his
entourage had already fled.

The Bolsheviks and their supporters in Moscow, St. Petersburg and
elsewhere seized the historic moment and presented a resolution to
the Soviet which declared the Soviet to be the legitimate
government of the workers, peasants and soldiers. It declared the
war at an end. It said the land belonged to the peasants and the
factories belonged to the workers and asked the workers of the
world to support them in this great historic effort.

This electrified the whole world. At last a workers' government
had been established that meant what it said. When it said peace,
it stopped the fighting. When it talked about the land, it
declared it the property of the peasants. When it talked about the
factories, it said they belonged to the workers. It had a big, big
job ahead.  It was to be tested in fire and in blood.

When the Soviet government was established, it enacted equal
suffrage for both men and women over 18 years old. Women couldn't
vote in the U.S. at that time. The USSR was the first state to do
it. This was done not by a capitalist democracy but a proletarian
dictatorship, that is, a democracy of the workers.

The USSR legalized abortion. This is still a divisive issue in the
U.S. But the USSR, notwithstanding the heritage of feudalism and
superstitious fears, went ahead and legalized abortion at a time
when no capitalist state dreamed of doing it.

It declared the right to self-determination for every state,
including the right to secede if they wanted to. It was on this
basis that the USSR maintained the unity of nearly 100
nationalities for a long period.

It struck down all the discriminatory laws against women and
against lesbians and gays--and again was the first country to do

If this is what a workers' state could do in a country that was at
that time poor, on one of the lowest technological levels in the
world after being devastated by war and counter-revolution, think
of what can be done in a highly industrialized country.

Laid the foundations

No new social order ever passes away until it exhausts its
possibilities for further development. The Soviet government had
not exhausted its possibilities for socialist development when it
was cut short by counter-revolution.

The Soviet government, the first workers' state in history, merely
laid the foundations for building a socialist society by virtue of
the ownership of the means of production, a monopoly of foreign
trade and later the collectivization of the land.

However, in the field of distribution of the national income, the
workers' state was obliged to temporarily utilize the methods of
capitalism, which meant unequal distribution and the growth of

The society that was ended by the ascendancy of the
counter-revolutionary Gorbachev-Yeltsin group was not a fully
developed socialist state. Nevertheless we must be careful not to
exaggerate or overstate the significance of the ascendancy of that
counter-revolutionary grouping and assign to it a permanence which
it by no means has.

Not a fascist onslaught

The ascendancy of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin group did not result in a
counter-revolution of the type led by Hitler in Germany, Franco in
Spain or Pinochet in Chile. Such a counter-revolution means not
only the overthrow of the governing group but the crushing of the
workers and all progressive and democratic movements.

This has not taken place in the Soviet Union nor does it, at the
present time, show an ability to move in that direction, even
though the U.S. in particular is pushing and shoving the Yeltsin
counter-revolutionaries to take strong-arm measures. True, the
counter-revolutionary grouping, taking advantage of the
unfortunate coup attempt, legally dissolved the Communist Party;
the government's edict in that connection is being contested in
the courts, which indicates a weakness on the part of the Yeltsin

But communists as such are not illegal in the sense of the
counter-revolutions in Europe, or China during the Chiang Kai-shek
regime. Nor have the social gains of the working class and
peasantry been wiped out and appropriated by the Gorbachev-Yeltsin
usurpers. These gains have been significantly diluted and
inflation has taken its toll. But a full-scale social
counter-revolution has a considerable way to go. The working class
is by no means in the position of a defeated class. It is
ideologically and politically disoriented. A variety of communist
groupings are vying for its leadership under difficult and
repressive conditions. But the counter-revolution has by no means
triumphed definitively.

For instance, in the weakest economic sector, agriculture,
collectivization remains strong despite all the predictions of the
bourgeois economists and their paeans of praise for the alleged
individualistic cravings of the collective farmers. On July 8,
ABC-TV's Moscow correspondent, Barry Dunsmore, reported from a
collective farm in Russia with about 600 farmers. While all now
have the legal right to become private farmers, only one (!) has
chosen that option.

Dunsmore concluded that not only is there no rush to
privatization, but on the contrary it's virtually nil. One must
also draw the conclusion that not only the working population on
the farms but also the industrial sectors with which they deal are
supportive of the collectives.

The leadership of Boris Yeltsin and his Prime Minister Yegor
Gaidar had counted on the rapid dissolution of the state and
collective farms as peasants rushed to privatization. Had that
happened, it would have relieved the Yeltsin-Gaidar camarilla of
paying wages and other social benefits to those who left the
collectives. They thought that with these savings, they could
subsidize privatization. But the rush to privatize did not happen.

Even the banks that were supposed to lend to private entrepreneurs
at low interest rates have balked. They have been thrown into
turmoil by galloping inflation--which they, as the trustees of the
monetary system, are supposed to guard against. So neither the
banks nor the state itself are in a position to advance enormous
sums of money to finance private farmers coming from the
agricultural sector.

Yeltsin goes hat in hand

All this is putting further pressure on the Yeltsin
counter-revolutionaries to beg for funds from foreign lenders.
Yeltsin has become a steady fixture at every international
conference of the imperialist powers, whether it be the IMF, the
European conference on cooperation and security or the latest G7
meeting of the seven imperialist powers. He never seems to get
more than promises and photo opportunities.

The only serious development in relations with the foreign
monopolies is in the extraction of oil and gas. But they are
concerned with drawing out the lifeblood of the country while
contributing a minimum of cash. They want the right to take out
their profits and be able to suspend production virtually at will.

>From this it follows that the Yeltsin counter-revolutionaries and
those who prepared the road for them, the Gorbachev grouping, are
unable to consummate their plans for a full-scale restoration of

To do so they would have to wipe out the social gains of the
proletarian revolution and utilize the wealth built up during
socialist construction to finance the transformation to
capitalism.  In Germany and Spain, the economic loot and political
power appropriated through the bloody fascist counter-revolutions
gave both Hitler and Franco a modicum of independence against the
other imperialists.

This is not the case with the Yeltsin camarilla. Nor is the USSR
like Poland and Hungary, where there were actual mass
counter-revolutions, even though they were manipulated by
pro-imperialist forces. No such developments have taken place to
date in the former USSR.

The breakup of the Soviet Union is strictly the result of the
Gorbachev-Yeltsin bourgeois reforms. There were no nationalist
uprisings during the many decades of Soviet rule. None were
reported in the imperialist press, which had its ears close to the
ground through its intelligence network. We are therefore left to
conclude that the Yeltsin social and political grouping presently
on top is relying not so much on mass support as on imperialist

It is very necessary to carefully arrive at a formulation of the
class character of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin usurpers. They are
bourgeois counter-revolutionaries, but what is the character of
the state they govern at the present time?

What is class character of state?

In its basic features the former USSR is now a neocolonialist
social formation. Its heavy debt to the imperialist banks and
governments is a heavy contributing factor. (Before the
counter-revolutionary seizure of power, the USSR was the most
credit-worthy country in the world. Imperialist banks competed to
offer loans to the Soviet Union, precisely because it was so
prompt in its payments, whether of interest or principal.)

But an even weightier factor in characterizing the former USSR as
a neocolonialist social formation is that the new bourgeoisie,
notwithstanding its tolerance and cultivation under previous
administrations of the Soviet government, is still a narrow

It lives in constant fear because it exists in a vast sea that is
socially and politically antagonistic to it. Hence, and this is
the key point, it indispensably needs not only economic but
political support from the imperialist bourgeoisie. Thus in its
quintessential elements it is a classic example of the compradore
bourgeoisie witnessed earlier in the colonial countries, such as
China, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina and

The compradore bourgeoisie need Yeltsin as they needed Gorbachev
earlier. They are the pliant tools of imperialism. They underwrite
the most significant adventures of U.S. imperialism and act in
unison with it. It would be altogether different if they had an
independent, fully formed capitalist state. Such servility to
imperialism would be totally out of accord with their political
and class position at home.

>From the point of view of Marxist sociological analysis, the
present social character of the former USSR state must be viewed
as transitional. It is constantly wracked by internal class
antagonisms that do not permit this state to achieve the stability
that the imperialists are eager to see but cannot afford to pledge
their fortunes to.


(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if
source is cited. For more info contact Workers World,46 W. 21 St.,
New York, NY 10010; "[email protected]!".)

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