Death of the U.S.S.R.


The People
January 11, 1991
Page 4

Death of the U.S.S.R.

Declared dead on Dec. 8, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formally buried on Dec. 21,1991. The political entity known as the Soviet Union has been supplanted by 15 independent republics, 11 of which are now aligned in a loose "Commonwealth of Independent States."

An era has passed. What are some of the consequences for the world's working classes? To answer that question, one must first place this event in proper perspective.

The Soviet Union is dead, but the Soviet system, the class-ruled system that we have described as bureaucratic state despotism, still lives.

Apolitical realignment has taken place, and the form of bureaucratic class rule has been altered. Yet the prevailing mode of production remains one of state ownership of the means of production, and control of overall production and exchange by a state apparatus-tattered though it is. A capitalist sector has re-emerged from the shadows of the Soviet economy, but it remains weak, largely confined to petty retail businesses that feed off the state sector, like parasites atop a parasite.

There has been no revolution. The overwhelming mass of the Soviet people -- the working class-played no direct role in the dismantlement of the Soviet Union. It was a top-down change, engineered by the non-Communist and ex-Communist elements that now (except in Tadzhikistan and Uzbekistan) control, and rule through, the state apparatus.

But this is not to say that the death of the Soviet Union is insignificant. It will have an impact that, ironically, could help speed the arrival of genuine socialism.

Though the bureaucratic ruling class remains, it is (with the two exceptions noted) no longer a Communist Party bureaucracy. Any remaining pretense that it represents "socialism," "communism" or "Marxism" died along with the Soviet Union. Over 70 years of the Soviet Communist Party trying to pass itself off as the leading Marxian socialist organization of the world, and of trying to pass off its rule as a living example of socialism, is finally at an end.

There will no longer exist this bad "example" to wrongfully associate "socialism," "communism" and "Marxism" with:

* state ownership and bureaucratic control of the means of production,

* a pampered, privileged elite and an exploited, oppressed working class,

* a harsh, regimented existence for workers, enforced by widespread state surveillance, brute repression, political imprisonment and terror,

* shortages, long lines, shoddy products and bureaucratic inefficiency,

* an imperialistic and thoroughly opportunistic foreign policy that made a mockery of socialist internationalism, and

* a party that repeatedly interfered with the socialist movements in other countries, through the creation and support of parties that slavishly towed the "Moscow line," often with disastrous consequences.

Good riddance to all of that!

Of course, the demise of the Soviet Union won't prevent propagandists for capitalism from continuing to use the "Soviet example" as an argument for "why socialism can't work." But as the Soviet Union fades into history, it will become increasingly difficult for them to use it to divert attention from the current failings of capitalism -- especially as the rulers of the new Commonwealth continue to follow the disastrous path of "market reforms," while the U.S. economy continues to go to the dogs.

This does not mean that the death of the Soviet Union should be viewed without qualification as a socially "progressive" development. In the former Soviet Union itself, the demise of the CP regime has let loose a host of reactionary forces. Chauvinistic nationalist groups and even fascist outfits are experiencing a resurgence. The former Soviet Union is now a collection of less economically viable nations, several of which are in conflict with each other. Its breakup has given rise to even more backward ethnic-group-based and provincial movements. All of this can only serve to divert the class struggle and divide workers against each other.

Yet as Marxism teaches, history and social progress do not march in a straight line. Just as a festering sore needs to be exposed to air in order to heal, it may be a historical necessity for long-suppressed reactionary nationalist currents to come to the fore in order for the ex-Soviet working class to transcend them; the workers may have to experience the limitations of national independence firsthand in order to shatter their illusions about it. Similarly, it may prove historically necessary for the former Soviet republics to experience a wrenching period of capitalism to finish laying the material basis for socialism.

Thus, even the apparently reactionary consequences of the death of the Soviet Union will ultimately serve to hasten the Soviet Union will ultimately serve to hasten the arrival of the downfall of world capitalism. And if the ex-Soviet working class, like the U.S. working class, must be pushed back several small steps before it can make the giant stride to socialism, that is to be expected. In what now reads almost like a eulogy for the Soviet Union, Marx once well described this convoluted path leading to the ultimate triumph of socialism:

"Proletarian revolutions ... constantly interrupt themselves in their own course; come back to what seems to have been accomplished, in order to start over anew; scorn with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses and meannesses of their first attempts; seem to throw down their adversary only in order to enable him to draw fresh strength from the earth, and again to rise up against them in more gigantic stature; constantly recoil in fear before the undefined monster magnitude of their own objects-until finally that situation is created that renders all retreat impossible, and the conditions themselves cry out:

"Here is Rhodes, leap here!

"Here is the rose, dance here!"

A monstrous mockery of socialism is dead. The class struggle, and the efforts to build the real thing, continue.