There has been much debate amongst academics about whether the Soviet Union was ever ‘communist’. Those who argued it was would say if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck it must be a duck. Opponents would argue that is does not walk or look like a duck, but something else entirely.

Let us look more closely.

What is communism?

‘a theory or system of social organization in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.’

Does this resemble the Soviet Union or any other state across history?

The answer is an unequivocal ‘NO’.

Following the publication of a counter intuitive text “Class Theory and History: Capitalism and Communism in the USSR,” in 2002 professors Stephen A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff, both specialists in Marxian economics, apply their previously developed class theory to analyze the creation, evolution and demise of the Soviet Union.

‘Under a true communist system, says Resnick, the workers would control all aspects of production and decide how any surpluses are used. But in the wake of the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks imposed a layer of state managers to operate industry in the name of the people. That system, which Resnick and Wolff call “state capitalism,” actually ceded decisions about the use of profits to government officials.

If communism ever existed within the USSR, says Resnick, it was during a brief period following the revolution when the Bolsheviks redistributed land to the peasants, who formed farming collectives. Working at the local level, farmers reached consensus on how their surplus products would be used.’

For these specialists and many others since the Soviet Union was no more than state capitalism. Decisions about the use of profits were ceded to government officials. This would never happen within a communist community….

This therefore begs the question as to ‘why those who ran the Soviet system were as eager to call it ‘Communist’ as the capitalists in the west?’

The reason is quite simple. Resnick and Wolff contend that state capitalism was originally seen by the Bolsheviks as a necessary step in the evolution towards a communist state. But after Lenin’s death in 1923, says Wolff, Stalin short-circuited those plans by simply declaring the Soviet Union a communist-socialist state. It did not walk or look like a duck but Stalin told the world that it did. Those inside the totalitarian state dare not challenge and those outside could now use the Stalinist narrative to create a fear and aversion to anything ‘Communist’. Stalin’s declaration eased pressure on the Soviets to move a fully communistic system, according to Wolff. “He hammered home the point by killing anyone who disagreed.”

It therefore suited both the Soviets and the west in their propaganda. It particularly suited the west as the war machine could be continually justified that brought with it billions in profits for the arms corporations and it also suited the politcal modus as increasingly psychologists were arguing that mass social control required fear.

According to Wolff, it was a politically expedient solution intended to assuage the masses who had already suffered through the poverty of the czarist system and the bloodshed of World War I and the post-revolution civil war that brought US, British, French and Japanese troops onto Russian soil. Faced with the responsibilities of governing and preserving their power, the Soviet leaders found it easier simply to declare the revolution a success.

By the 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev was leader, having superseded the Ukrainian Konstantin Chernenko, the state capitalist industries and farms were incapable of generating enough surplus to sustain industrial capital accumulation, maintain the USSR’s superpower status, meet the consumer demands of the population and pay for the bloated Communist party apparatus and bureaucracy. Something had to give, and soon the Soviet leaders began to introduce more elements of private capitalism. Ultimately, that also loosened the political monopoly held by the Communist Party. Soon, the Soviet republics began going their own way. Perhaps the ultimate catalyst was the nuclear incident at Chernobyl, which was a disaster for the Soviet Union, both domestically and internationally.

Gorbachev played along with the half a century of delusion, since Stalin’s proclamations, but along with others realised that the Soviet Union was now on borrowed time. He introduced perestroika a program instituted in the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s to restructure Soviet economic and political policy. Seeking to bring the Soviet Union up to economic par with capitalist countries such as Germany, Japan, and the United States, Gorbachev decentralized economic controls and encouraged enterprises to become self-financing. The economic bureaucracy, fearing the loss of its power and privileges, obstructed much of his program, however. Gorbachev also proposed reducing the direct involvement of the Communist Party leadership in the country’s governance and increasing the local governments’ authority. In 1988 a new parliament, the Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies, was created. Similar congresses were established in each Soviet republic as well. For the first time, elections to these bodies presented voters with a choice of candidates, including non-communists, though the Communist Party continued to dominate the system.

And he also introduced glasnost, (Russian: “openness”) Soviet policy of open discussion of political and social issues. It was instituted in the late 1980s and began the democratisation of the Soviet Union. Ultimately, fundamental changes to the political structure of the Soviet Union occurred: the power of the Communist Party was reduced, and multicandidate elections took place. Glasnost also permitted criticism of government officials and allowed the media freer dissemination of news and information.

Sadly for the Russians and many others what transpired was a takeover by corporations and a political mafia that turned the old Soviet states in to breeding grounds for greed, inequality, corruption and mass exploitation. As this extract from Der Spiegel illustrates the goings on in Russia were and are no fairytale for the people.

These cases show just how literally the terms “hostile takeover” and “corporate raider” are often taken in Russia. And unlike in Western Europe, the attackers are normally not even interested in the business itself but only its premises. Many of these land grabbers build luxury apartments for Russia’s nouveaux riches on the premises they have seized — one way of making a fast buck in the country’s booming big cities.

Since what matters most is the speed of the take-over, when it comes to the transfer of property rights in Russia muscle takes precedence over money. The brawny mercenaries are dubbed “landsknechty” in Russian jargon. Their employers convey them by bus or train from small provincial towns to the scene of the crime.

They usually have orders to do little more than intimidate their victims. Avoiding bloodshed, they usually overpower the company’s security guards, tie them up with duct tape and throw them into a store room, as one Ukrainian mercenary reports. The police only arrive 40 minutes later, probably bribed to take their time, at which point the new well-dressed company owner is already sitting at his desk, equipped with fraudulent company papers.

The level of fear in Russia may have changed persona but it had not diminished.

Western politicians and corporations were like cats ready to pounce. Massive economic dislocation occurred as Soviet economic ties were severed, a market economy was created and shock therapy accompanied by mass privatisation. Whatever was said in the media the last thing on many of their minds was the Russian… public. Their agenda was all about profits and power.

Here academic Rod Driver explains exactly how the term communism was utilised by the power bases in the west to create an illusion whilst they ransacked the old Soviet states and created puppets.

Vladimir Putin who followed Boris Yeltsin were and are part of this deception. Wars and conflicts are only possible when foes unite in deceit.

Mikhail Gorbachev turned the Soviet supertanker in to another beast. If he had adopted a model that the west were against he would not be being eulogised over and celebrated in the western media. They choose our friends and enemies as history shows us and damn anyone who thinks differently.

Where does that leave us?

Let us give the last word to Stephen Resnick.

The years ahead may produce a new form of communism – a system based on ownership of private property, stock markets and political freedom, but allowing workers to decide how the profits of their work are allocated.

“If we allow communism to be defined as people getting the profits, it opens up all different possibilities,” says Resnick. “I think it could work.”

Whether he is right or wrong is open as usual to discussion. Climate change, amongst many threats will now determine how much longer humanity has. However, for those who continue to ridicule communism and socialism check out the last half a century in Silicon Valley and the continuous bailing out of economies across the world including the UK. We are a lot closer than many may choose to admit.

Jason Cridland


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