Seven Myths about the USSR

By Stephen Gowans
The Soviet Union was dissolved 22 years ago, on December 26, 1991. It’s widely believed outside the former republics of the USSR that Soviet citizens fervently wished for this; that Stalin was hated as a vile despot; that the USSR’s socialist economy never worked; and that the citizens of the former Soviet Union prefer the life they have today under capitalist democracy to, what, in the fevered parlance of Western journalists, politicians and historians, was the repressive, dictatorial rule of a one-party state which presided over a sclerotic, creaky and unworkable socialist economy.

None of these beliefs is true.

Myth #1. The Soviet Union had no popular support. On March 17, 1991, nine months before the Soviet Union’s demise, Soviet citizens went to the polls to vote on a referendum which asked whether they were in favor of preserving the USSR. Over three-quarters voted yes. Far from favoring the breakup of the union, most Soviet citizens wanted to preserve it. [1]

Myth #2. Russians hate Stalin. In 2009, Rossiya, a Russian TV channel, spent three months polling over 50 million Russians to find out who, in their view, were the greatest Russians of all time. Prince Alexander Nevsky, who successfully repelled an attempted Western invasion of Russia in the 13th century, came first. Second place went to Pyotr Stolypin, who served as prime minister to Tsar Nicholas II, and enacted agrarian reforms. In third place, behind Stolypin by only 5,500 votes, was Joseph Stalin, a man that Western opinion leaders routinely describe as a ruthless dictator with the blood of tens of millions on his hands. [2] He may be reviled in the West, not surprisingly, since he was never one after the hearts of the corporate grandees who dominate the West’s ideological apparatus, but, it seems, Russians have a different view—one that fails to comport with the notion that Russians were victimized, rather than elevated, by Stalin’s leadership.

In a May/June 2004 Foreign Affairs article, (Flight from Freedom: What Russians Think and Want), anti-communist Harvard historian Richard Pipes cited a poll in which Russians were asked to list the 10 greatest men and women of all time. The poll-takers were looking for significant figures of any country, not just Russians. Stalin came fourth, behind Peter the Great, Lenin, and Pushkin…much to Pipes’ irritation. [3]

Myth #3. Soviet socialism didn’t work. If this is true, then capitalism, by any equal measure, is an indisputable failure. From its inception in 1928, to the point at which it was dismantled in 1989, Soviet socialism never once, except during the extraordinary years of World War II, stumbled into recession, nor failed to provide full employment. [4] What capitalist economy has ever grown unremittingly, without recession, and providing jobs for all, over a 56 year span (the period during which the Soviet economy was socialist and the country was not at war, 1928-1941 and 1946-1989)? Moreover, the Soviet economy grew faster than capitalist economies that were at an equal level of economic development when Stalin launched the first five year plan in 1928—and faster than the US economy through much of the socialist system’s existence. [5] To be sure, the Soviet economy never caught up to or surpassed the advanced industrial economies of the capitalist core, but it started the race further back; was not aided, as Western countries were, by histories of slavery, colonial plunder, and economic imperialism; and was unremittingly the object of Western, and especially US, attempts to sabotage it. Particularly deleterious to Soviet economic development was the necessity of diverting material and human resources from the civilian to the military economy, to meet the challenge of Western military pressure. The Cold War and arms race, which entangled the Soviet Union in battles against a stronger foe, not state ownership and planning, kept the socialist economy from overtaking the advanced industrial economies of the capitalist West. [6] And yet, despite the West’s unflagging efforts to cripple it, the Soviet socialist economy produced positive growth in each and every non-war year of its existence, providing a materially secure existence for all. Which capitalist economy can claim equal success?

Myth #4. Now that they’ve experienced it, citizens of the former Soviet Union prefer capitalism. On the contrary, they prefer the Soviet system’s state planning, that is, socialism. Asked in a recent poll what socio-economic system they favor, Russians answered [7]:

• State planning and distribution, 58%
• Private property and distribution, 28%
• Hard to say, 14%
• Total, 100%

Pipes cites a poll in which 72 percent of Russians “said they wanted to restrict private economic initiative.” [8]

Myth #5. Twenty-two years later, citizens of the former Soviet Union see the USSR’s demise as more beneficial than harmful. Wrong again. According to a just-released Gallup poll, for every citizen of 11 former Soviet republics, including Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, who thinks the breakup of the Soviet Union benefited their country, two think it did harm. And the results are more strongly skewed toward the view that the breakup was harmful among those aged 45 years and over, namely, the people who knew the Soviet system best. [9]

According to another poll cited by Pipes, three-quarters of Russians regret the Soviet Union’s demise [10]—hardly what you would think of people who were reportedly delivered from a supposedly repressive state and allegedly arthritic, ponderous economy.

Myth #6. Citizens of the former Soviet Union are better off today. To be sure, some are. But are most? Given that more prefer the former socialist system to the current capitalist one, and think that the USSR’s breakup has done more harm than good, we might infer that most aren’t better off—or at least, that they don’t see themselves as such. This view is confirmed, at least as regards life expectancy. In a paper in the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, sociologist David Stuckler and medical researcher Martin McKee, show that the transition to capitalism in the former USSR precipitated a sharp drop in life-expectancy, and that “only a little over half of the ex-Communist countries have regained their pre-transition life-expectancy levels.” Male life expectancy in Russia, for example, was 67 years in 1985, under communism. In 2007, it was less than 60 years. Life expectancy plunged five years between 1991 and 1994. [11] The transition to capitalism, then, produced countless pre-mature deaths—and continues to produce a higher mortality rate than likely would have prevailed under the (more humane) socialist system. (A 1986 study by Shirley Ciresto and Howard Waitzkin, based on World Bank data, found that the socialist economies of the Soviet bloc produced more favorable outcomes on measures of physical quality of life, including life expectancy, infant mortality, and caloric intake, than did capitalist economies at the same level of economic development, and as good as capitalist economies at a higher level of development. [12])

As regards the transition from a one-party state to a multi-party democracy, Pipes points to a poll that shows that Russians view democracy as a fraud. Over three-quarters believe “democracy is a facade for a government controlled by rich and powerful cliques.” [13] Who says Russians aren’t perspicacious?

Myth #7. If citizens of the former Soviet Union really wanted a return to socialism, they would just vote it in. If only it were so simple. Capitalist systems are structured to deliver public policy that suits capitalists, and not what’s popular, if what’s popular is against capitalist interests. Obamacare aside, the United States doesn’t have full public health insurance. Why not? According to the polls, most Americans want it. So, why don’t they just vote it in? The answer, of course, is that there are powerful capitalist interests, principally private insurance companies, that have used their wealth and connections to block a public policy that would attenuate their profits. What’s popular doesn’t always, or even often, prevail in societies where those who own and control the economy can use their wealth and connections to dominate the political system to win in contests that pit their elite interests against mass interests. As Michael Parenti writes,

Capitalism is not just an economic system, but an entire social order. Once it takes hold, it is not voted out of existence by electing socialists or communists. They may occupy office but the wealth of the nation, the basic property relations, organic law, financial system, and debt structure, along with the national media, police power, and state institutions have all been fundamentally restructured. [14]

A Russian return to socialism is far more likely to come about the way it did the first time, through revolution, not elections—and revolutions don’t happen simply because people prefer a better system to the one they currently have. Revolutions happen when life can no longer be lived in the old way—and Russians haven’t reached the point where life as it’s lived today is no longer tolerable.

Interestingly, a 2003 poll asked Russians how they would react if the Communists seized power. Almost one-quarter would support the new government, one in five would collaborate, 27 percent would accept it, 16 percent would emigrate, and only 10 percent would actively resist it. In other words, for every Russian who would actively oppose a Communist take-over, four would support it or collaborate with it, and three would accept it [15]—not what you would expect if you think Russians are glad to get out from underneath what we’re told was the burden of communist rule.

So, the Soviet Union’s passing is regretted by the people who knew the USSR firsthand (but not by Western journalists, politicians and historians who knew Soviet socialism only through the prism of their capitalist ideology.) Now that they’ve had over two decades of multi-party democracy, private enterprise and a market economy, Russians don’t think these institutions are the wonders Western politicians and mass media make them out to be. Most Russians would prefer a return to the Soviet system of state planning, that is, to socialism.

Even so, these realities are hidden behind a blizzard of propaganda, whose intensity peaks each year on the anniversary of the USSR’s passing. We’re supposed to believe that where it was tried, socialism was popularly disdained and failed to deliver—though neither assertion is true.

Of course, that anti-Soviet views have hegemonic status in the capitalist core is hardly surprising. The Soviet Union is reviled by just about everyone in the West: by the Trotskyists, because the USSR was built under Stalin’s (and not their man’s) leadership; by social democrats, because the Soviets embraced revolution and rejected capitalism; by the capitalists, for obvious reasons; and by the mass media (which are owned by the capitalists) and the schools (whose curricula, ideological orientation and political and economic research are strongly influenced by them.)

So, on the anniversary of the USSR’s demise we should not be surprised to discover that socialism’s political enemies should present a view of the Soviet Union that is at odds with what those on the ground really experienced, what a socialist economy really accomplished, and what those deprived of it really want.

1.”Referendum on the preservation of the USSR,” RIA Novosti, 2001,
2. Guy Gavriel Kay, “The greatest Russians of all time?” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), January 10, 2009.
3. Richard Pipes, “Flight from Freedom: What Russians Think and Want,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2004.
4. Robert C. Allen. Farm to Factory: A Reinterpretation of the Soviet Industrial Revolution, Princeton University Press, 2003. David Kotz and Fred Weir. Revolution From Above: The Demise of the Soviet System, Routledge, 1997.
5. Allen; Kotz and Weir.
6. Stephen Gowans, “Do Publicly Owned, Planned Economies Work?” what’s left, December 21, 2012.
7. “Russia Nw”, in The Washington Post, March 25, 2009.
8. Pipes.
9. Neli Espova and Julie Ray, “Former Soviet countries see more harm from breakup,” Gallup, December 19, 2013,
10. Pipes.
11. Judy Dempsey, “Study looks at mortality in post-Soviet era,” The New York Times, January 16, 2009.
12. Shirley Ceresto and Howard Waitzkin, “Economic development, political-economic system, and the physical quality of life”, American Journal of Public Health, June 1986, Vol. 76, No. 6.
13. Pipes.
14. Michael Parenti, Blackshirts & Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism, City Light Books, 1997, p. 119.
15. Pipes.

30 thoughts on “Seven Myths about the USSR

  1. Obviously the Soviet economic system “worked” to some degree, otherwise it would not have lasted so long. The same might be said of Western capitalism. But neither system worked well. There is a vast literature on the defects of the Soviet economic system in official Soviet publications (i.e., not just in Western propaganda). It is essential to distinguish between different periods. Forced industrialization and collectivization of agriculture under Stalin led to a sharp decline in living standards and (in the early 1930s) famine. The purges also did enormous harm to the economy as well as to defense preparedness. Living standards greatly improved under Khrushchev, who slashed military expenditure, launched a huge program of residential construction, and permitted the emergence of a small-scale family farming (the ‘private plots’). As it stabilized, the post-Stalin system provided people with free or nearly free healthcare, education, housing, utilities, public transportation; and no one starved (food was imported if necessary). The supply of consumer goods was limited and erratic — people had to stand in line a lot — but gradually improved. Then the demolition of the Soviet system at the start of the 1990s led to another sharp decline in living standards, comparable to that in the early 1930s.

    We should also consider the experience of the East European countries. Some of them achieved living standards higher than the USSR — in particular, East Germany and Hungary after the system was reformed there in 1968. Victor Grossman, an American who lived in East Germany for many years, compares the pros and cons of life in the two Germanies in his memoir ‘A Socialist Defector.’

    With regard to China, it is again essential to distinguish between periods. The first few years were a marked improvement over the preceding regime for most people, but Mao’s Great Leap Forward led to famine. Later the ‘Cultural Revolution’ also did great harm to the economy. The first few years under Deng Xioaping greatly improved living standards, especially in the countryside, but in recent decades unbalanced industrial development and neglect of agriculture have created the current situation of extreme inequality.

  2. Crap.

    Meant Franklin D. Roosevelt; not Theodore.

    Shouldn’t be arguing with Republicans and B.C. Liberals voters over the recent proposal to dismantle the national park and provincial park systems at the same time.

  3. Why should there be an alternative?

    Finland shut down their own government several times in the past with worker-strikes and riots ever since the Revolution of 1905. So did Sweden. Several times people walked out and blocked roads which froze the economy. Those governments operate under a social democracy. The government is afraid of own people crippling the country. However, they still manage to preserve a very strong capitalist economy through tempering the people by collective bargaining.

    That’s why Soviet Union is so scary to capitalists because they had a revolution in 1917 and it didn’t fail. In fact, they expanded through several civil wars during the 1920s. Several movements happened in United States and across Europe. It’s only by laying in bed with the fascists, the spread of communism was halted until after the Second World War. With the overthrow of fascist regimes near the end of the war, the capitalists became more concerned takeovers of communist parties in democratic elections.

    Konrad Adenauer, a conservative leader in Germany, understood he had to toss the unions a bone to gnaw on if the right didn’t want the communists to win the elections. The fear of communism taking over led to a policy of Soziale Marktwirtschaft.He managed to get the workers back into the factories without offering higher wages by agreeing to reforms such as better healthcare and better education. After all, providing universal care and education is cheaper than paying each individual worker a higher salary.

    United Kingdom used to be famous for shutting down their conservative governments through union-strikes too. Margaret Thatcher would had never had to break apart the union if the Labour Party was able to get the unions to agree to a social contract similar to Soziale Marktwirtschaft

    Unfortunately, the Left in UK got neutered over animal-rights as noticed people are more concerned about fox-hunting and badger-culls than the austerity measures and reduced accessibility to post-secondary education; resulting in a double-recessions, which the United States never experienced because President Obama became more proactive on providing reliefs so he wouldn’t have another Occupy Wall Street movement on his hands again.

    Every single American leader since Theodore D. Roosevelt understood the concept of collective bargaining up until Jimmy Carter, who was the first president to start reversing the policies, and Ronald Reagan. Why? They were all afraid of a communist revolution within the United States. That is until the workers felt like they could do with less in order to remain competitive.

    That is the legacy neoliberialism left us; and the policy is the result of United States being more successful in creating a trade-dependency whereas all the old imperial powers who gained their lands and resources through military-might were falling all over the place like dominoes. Nazi Germany was truly the last great power to successfully conquer nations by force. When this is understood, then treaties such as European Union makes more sense in a broader context. Actually, what E.U. did for Germany is what Hitler should had done in the first place.

    That’s the illusion of free-trade deals and trickle-down economics. They are promised more jobs,and when promise is not fulfilled then people are told if they don’t work for less, then they will be replaced by someone else who is younger or who will for less. Or that another country will usurp their place in the world if they don’t lower their standards.

    Socialism or communism are not failured systems. The guardians themselves failed to preserve the system. The working-class didn’t fight for their rights and they let those rights slip away when they got afraid; All that is left now are the liberal elites who have taken on the role of benign paternalism.

    If you are not going to refute any of the points above, then further explanation is not needed.

    The formula is there, and people used it many times in almost every western country in the world; and in several so-called “developing” countries. Sometimes it result in a revolution which overthrew the government, and other times it result in a right-wing government giving the people what they want. The causes behind both are the same.

    The problem is the Left got neutered.

  4. sounds like so much bourgeois twaddle to me Russell.If you would spend half as much time giving your analysis a working class prospective rather than trying to fix the problems of capitalisms development to its imperialist stage it might be of some use to the masses.You wont suggest an alternative because you dont have one save to allow corporations to sue the government and the use of strikes,,to achieve what ?but as you’ve thrown socialism out the window i can only ask…to what end ?

  5. I should also point out one of the biggest downfalls of Soviet Union is the complete liberalization of free speech.

    Most of the sympathizers, including Michael Parenti, were in favour of democratizing the USSR. Even the hardcore said good things about perestroika and glasnost up until they realized people can say whatever they want without backing up the truth of their statements.. Mikhail Gorbachev had good intentions, but perhaps he was born in the wrong time period. His ideas would had been better adapted during the 1930s. However, because of those measures, Boris Yeltsin and his ilks were able to commit election frauds and held the people at a gun-point with their tanks and soldiers.

    And we see this problem in United States as well. The Constitution guarantees the freedom of expression of creationists and flat-earthers to say what they want indiscriminately and inevitably dominate politics. However, there is nothing in the Constitution which guarantees what is being said is factually correct. The same thing happened to Soviet Union..

    Yes, it was a good thing people could criticize their government for oppression and propaganda, but there were no measures which ensure unfounded criticisms which are not factually-proven are not published.

  6. In order to understand the pragmatic Marxist scholars, one would have to go back to the economic classics such as John Stuart Mill, Adam Smith, Thomas Robert Malthus, David Ricardo and Jean-Baptiste Say.The Communist ideology does not contradict these works, but rather built upon as an extension of these works.

    Most of the advocates of capitalism have never read these sources. They just open up a textbook or go to Wikipedia without reading the original texts word for word. Either that, or they read the more dogmatic texts which only take the components which fit their own agendas since popular writing are much more easier to comprehend.

    The more dogmatic Marxists are just as notorious to false beliefs as the dogmatic capitalists as you have criticized. However, all it takes is a bit more investigations to unearth the literary gems.

    Nowhere did I equate socialism with imperialism. However, in order for capitalist society to function, it requires tools of imperialism and the creation of colonies to carry on the illusion of the high standards of living which we see in United States and European Union. Without those colonies, the fantasy would collapse. People under capitalism have no idea their entire lifestyles are built on resource-piracy. In contrast, the Soviet Union made no attempt to delude the people of its reality. That’s why when the Iron Wall crumbled, there were bunch of media about how poorly stocked the stores were and how only things available were cheap Yugoslav- and Chinese-made goods.

    In addition, Venezuela, Syria, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba and North Korea would be more than happy to trade with the rest of the world if there isn’t a trade embargoes and tariffs pressed against them. After all, countries like Canada and Netherlands certainly benefit from low prices of nickel and sugar. Most people agree with the notion of free-trade of commerce and goods. However, the capitalists don’t want to lift the embargoes until those countries accept the terms of deregulating the national economy.

    That is not to say those countries are strong enough to support themselves. They are not. The collapse of Soviet Union disenfranchised their role in the global economy. For instance, North Korea regularly participate in human-trafficking of political prisoners to Siberia to logging labour-camps without pay so the regime could trade for oil with the Russian oligarchs.

    Also, what is not stated in many texts is that the Soviet economy was built on so-called “soft-golds” such as petroleum, grains and fur. Yes, fur, it accounted for 10-20% of exports between 1920s to 1950s. These were products and resources that the capitalists couldn’t boycott. The western world were only to severe themselves after the Second World War from the trade-relations with USSR by compromising the conditions of fur-farms and refusing to re-educate the laid-off workers which were replaced by machines.

    I am not going to suggest an alternative. The formula has worked before for many countries. United States was able to build a strong middle-class because of the socialist and communist agitators during the first half of the century before Jimmy Carter began reverting some of those measures. Many of Canada’s good reputation was stolen from the mildly social-democratic New Democrat Party without any credits given to them. Even most of the current successes under the Nordic model can also be attributed to the Italian-influenced Eurocommunists and Soviet sympathizers during the 1970s.

    What needs to change is the ability of corporations to sue governments for passing laws which are designed to protect the people and the environment under the misnomered “Free Trade Agreements”; which isn’t really free-trade if one really think about what is outlined in these treaties. Unfortunately, the people have to force the transfer of control from corporations and government back into their own hands as long most of the world is corrupted by flawed democracies. Only a handful of nations have true democracy, and they won that by shutting down the government through walkouts and labour-strikes.

  7. Indeed, but the USSR was the inheritor of the Russian Empire, except for Poland and Finland, was it not? Just as the U.S. was the inheritor of the prerevolutionary British Empire in America. Neither one dropped from the skies.

  8. I just came across Mark H’s note, but I have to reply to my own because there is no ‘reply’ button under his.

    To clarify, if we don’t observe respectful democratic disputation from the time and place of Stalin’s regime, I think we must assume they were suppressed in some way, because human beings, even those with similar class interests and points of view, are naturally disputatious. I say these after long experience with (a) Left activists; (b) working-class groups; (c) upper-class groups; (d) families; (e) religious congregations. With some effort, a community can order and mitigate disputation in various ways, but shutting it off requires force or the believable threat of force. So if we don’t read of respectful democratic disputation under Stalin’s regime, we must assume someone forcibly shut it off, must we not?

  9. Surely this depends on the terms of trade and how things are planned,was it done on terms insisted by the capitalists and their world order or under conditions of fraternal relations.You seem to be equating socialism with imperialism and its hegemony and equating socialism with private accumulation typical of capitalism.Barter trade and mutually beneficial agreements were a common feature of Soviet trade relations both within the republics and internationally.The USSR exported much grain to developing countries even when they had barely enough for their own needs.It traded oil for sugar from Cuba even when it didnt need to import sugar.If trade relations cannot be mutually advantageous under socialism then there is little point in trying to achieve socialism,,if that is the case,russell can you please suggest and alternative.?There were constraints on what the USSR could do in its struggle with international capitalism but there were many nations that benefited from the USSR,s way of doing trade.In the end,it was the class struggle that destroyed the USSR.The same class struggle will lead to its rebirth..

  10. I apologize for the grammatical errors and spelling errors. Just face-palmed at my own mistakes.

  11. I suggest reading MIchael Parenti’s Blackshirts and Reds and Against Empire. Yes, he may had coined term “siege socialism” and is dimssed as a Stalinist apologist by the Troksyites and Maoists

    However, he pointed out in the works that Communism was inevitably environmentally destructive on a local scale because in order to avoid that it requires depotism in developing countries and resource-piracy of under-developed countries. Essentially, in order to consume more, the Soviets had to acquire resources further and further away from the major urban centers. The western world largely avoided that by investing into so-called resource-rich, labour-abundant “third-world” countries. In order to be on par with westernized consumption, Soviets would had to turn their satellites into colonies (eg. what the neo-imperalists did to Africa, Southeast Asia, India, Central and South America) or create internal colonies (eg. what United States did to Alaskan Inuits, West Virginia and Kentucky). If Soviet Communism had spread to more countries other than Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, Cuba and eastern Europe, then the Soviets would had been able to implement David Richardo’s theory of comparative advantage. The problem was that the Soviets was providing majority of the raw resources such as oil and minerals for most of the Blocs.

    The other issue is that the Soviets didn’t adhere as tightly to the Five Years Plan after Joseph Stalin died. While the Soviets didn’t abandon the Plan, the pace of developments retarded.

    Another problem was throughout much of post-Stalinist policies, the Russian intellectuals often had suggestions, but never implemented in full. This was something that would later bite them in the arse during the 1980s.

    The Leninist-Marxist criticisms of why Soviet Union fell apart from the internals are already there. One just have to read more on the subject.

  12. I stopped reading after #3 where it is stated that Russia was not aided by slavery like the west was….. Um, Russia was the last European country to abolish serfdom. They were one of the last 3 countries to have a form of involuntary servitude such as that when Alexander II got rid of it. (The only other countries were Brazil and the U.s)

  13. The call from Stalin for a united front against german fascism in the mid 1930,s with poland.england and anyone interested would be a good starting point. Despite there being huge differences. and clear opposition to the young soviet state form these capitalist states.These approaches were dismissed by the imperialist states.As to Stalin.s personal relationships with the opposition[trotsky,Zinoviev ect],that very much depended on the actions and reality’s of the opposition not on the courtesy’s of debate.You believe it is human nature to be disputatious and not based on the real nature of the class struggle,you make it personal.As if to back up your proposition you end your comment to me with”do we or dont we ?a few examples would refute the charge.If not….well…..If not what anarcissie ? should i ”f ”off,drop dead,dont oppose the views of you or F Hayes…Dosnt sound like you are very respectful of democratic disputation to me anarcissie.I suggest you look yourself for the answers to the questions you have posed me.You may wish to read two very good books on the matter,,,the great conspiracy..and ..Harpal Brar,s ..Trotskyism or Leninism..

  14. Bravo, What’s left! In an interview with the Atlantic’s David Goldberg, Fidel Castro said, “Socialism doesn’t even work in Cuba.” Goldberg rushed home in full gloat. He didn’t grasp that Commander Fidel meant that anti-imperialists must be patient, hunker down and accept the fact of the West’s overwhelming power, for now. “When the enemy attacks, we retreat.” ~ Mao.

  15. Although your post is thoughtful and well written it contains a fallacy I nonetheless find in the thinking of many contemporary Marxists; i.e. that “socialism” is a distinct historical socio-economic formation that exists apart from capitalism and communism. Rather, is it not the case that socialism constitutes the entire historical epoch between capitalism and communism – and that it undergoes quantitative changes such that it’s future form often seems a major departure from its present form? In other words, is not socialism merely capitalism becoming communism? In the same way that a newly-born infant is a human being albeit immature, socialism having just emerged from capitalist society is also immature – but it’s still socialist.

    You say that in 1917 Lenin proclaimed that the Bolsheviks had “begun” to construct socialist society but that this was “not yet” socialism. At what point would it be? When the dispossessed bourgeoisie was fully neutralized? When all agriculture was collectivized? When all industry – both large and small-scale – was vertically integrated into a socialist economic complex? When a certain kind of person was running the show? When everyone had learned to think and act like a communist? It seems like regardless of whatever criteria for “genuine” socialism is postulated there will always be arguments against why it should be considered “authentic”. This smacks of subjectivism.

    I realize that what I’ve said is tangential to what Mr. Gowans’ discussed in his post but it came to mind as I read your response.

  16. Do we have respectful democratic disputation from the time and place of Stalin’s regime? Given the disputatious nature of human beings, we ought to observe it. Do we, or don’t we? If we do, a few examples would refute the charge. If not….

  17. What evidence do you have that ‘Stalin and the group around him shut down respectful democratic disputation”?You repeat the same crap that came from the Hearst press and bastards like robert conquest.And what is “an honest scientific analysis”mean?Its either scientific or it isnt.Next youll be telling me that Stalin killed 10,20 30 60 million people in his 28 years as a continuation of Leninism,A quick mathmatic calculation is something like 2600 people every day in Stalin tenure.!!!!What rubbish you trots pedal,,you lost Leninism won.Thats good in my opinion,wich is worth just as much as yours.

  18. V I Lenin led a successful overthrow of Kerensky’s capitalist state because he prepared for the opportunity he knew was coming. This preparation was, very importantly, a theoretical one in which he further developed the ideas of Marx and his comrades – particularly in 1908, publishing ‘Materialism and Empirio-Criticism’. This work confronted the linear thinking – the method of Formal Logic and Formal Thought, debunking the idealist world outlook of anti-Marxists in the Bolshevik movement at that time. In this work, he defends, and explains what is meant by Materialist Dialectics, the world outlook of Marxism, and it was the clarity with which this outlook makes possible which allowed him to build and accurate model, a good theory, of the changing situation of the world in its motion. He was frequently a voice alone at that time among the Bolsheviks, and had to fight hard to overcome the tendency of many comrades to lapse back into the Formal mode. In 1917, he said ‘we will now commence to build the socialist order’. He did not say that Russian society was then, suddenly ‘socialist’. He did say the struggle to establish a socialist world was beginning. Marxism holds that the phenomena of the world must be grasped as a series of processes (The materialist dialectical view), and not as ‘events’ (the formal thinkers concept). That struggle must take the form of critical examination of the outcomes of policy programmes or practice, so the theory can be enriched and updated. It requires respectful democratic disputation and discussion. Joseph Stalin, and the group around him effectively shut down any such discussion – ending socialist democracy effectively – in the late 1920’s. Although some old Bolsheviks continued to work for a materialist dialectical practice, many were executed for daring to discuss critically, the programme imposed by Stalin. That was not socialism. It was a struggle for socialism, including, at first, Stalin’s sincere conceptions for progress. But because of the ending of Soviet democracy, this struggle became increasingly distorted, and the Stalinist faction which seized power, turned their back on Leninist dialectics, and retreated theoretically into Formal Logic and Thinking. In these circumstances, it is ridiculously inaccurate to suggest that the Soviet Union was ‘socialist’, Prior to (roughly) 1930, it was in a process of attempting to build a socialist society through the theory of Marxism – the unity and conflict of opposites as a reflection of the motion of matter in its contradictory dialectical development. After that, the struggle for a society grounded in a Marxist approach was largely negated. Despite this step back, the struggle found expression in the theoretical explorations of Russian academia, philosophical departments and so on (e.g. the work of Dr E.V. Ilyenkov and others) but it was political set aside. There is no doubt that even under such deformed circumstances, the socialised property relations of the Soviet economy were far superior to the chaos of western capitalism in terms of meeting the progressive needs of society – and that in the face of encirclement, civil war, Fascist aggression and imperialistic proxy wars. But we must be truthful and scientific if we are to properly grasp and understand the process from 1917 to 1990. And we must reconnect with the correct methodologies promoted by V I Lenin when he led, practically and theoretically, the greatest conscious leap in human society so far accomplished by our species. Study his work – now in Vol 14 of his Collected Works, and also his Philosophical Notebooks, Vol 38. Study and learn his method, and apply it in analysis of the nature of the Soviet Union, the ideas of Joseph Stalin, and perhaps study a copy of Ilyenkov’s little masterpiece ‘Dialectical Logic – Essays on Its History and Theories’, to find out what the real socialists understood and the ground they worked from. Socialism will be achieved in a future revolutionary social and political process, and the present collapse of the capitalist globalised economy will present an opportunity for those who wish to work for its achievement. But they must have and develop the correct theoretical and practical tools as Lenin did. We must remember that trhe Soviet Union is now a completed historical process, and the lesser anthropic principle thus indicates that the line of development it took was not the correct one for the achievement of socialism. Therefore, the honest scientific analysis of its historic process must be re-examined to avoid repetition of the errors which lead it astray. The final arbiter is not what I think, nor what you think – but the degree of correctness within the objective thinking which guides the struggle in the immediate future. So study Lenin’s Materialist Dialectics.

  19. Thanks for your message, Roman.
    English is hardly ever written perfectly, by anyone.
    Your message is clear. therefore your English is OK.

  20. Thank you for another well-written and thoughtful article. It is only sad that you are probably ‘preaching to the converted’, and that not many holding an opposite view will read it. I especially like the Parenti quote, a succinct explanation of why it is impossible to restore the system through elections.
    Regards from England, Pete.

  21. Hello, Stephen!
    Sorry for my English.
    I want to say some words as Russian.
    I was born in Syberia – in Irkutsk region, not far from lake Baykal. Now I’living in Krasnoyarsk (it’s too in Syberia) – geographical center of Russia.
    I’m 26 and I want to express opinion of many russians of my age. In last years here rised some strong left parties: ПВО (Party the Great Fatherland), Суть времени (Essence of Time). I think in several years they will take power in RF.
    In last years we looked at our history at different angle. When I was 19, I read Soljenitsin and thought what a scumbag was Iosif Stalin. Now I think that Stalin was the greatest leader of my nation and one of the greatest humanists in world history.
    Next photos was made 21 of december 2013:
    21 of december is the birth day fo Stalin. Sixty years from his death has passed.
    Many people in Russia wants the return of USSR. It’s better to say not the return, but upgrade of USSR – just to take the best of it.

  22. I did indeed engage in the ruthless criticism you recommend…only apparently it was on a matter you’re uncomfortable with criticism of, namely, the nonsense that passes for the common sense about the Soviet Union. One wonders why this make you uncomfortable.

    As to your view that there are plenty of articles praising Stalin and the Soviet Union but hardly any criticism of actually existing socialism, you really should tell me in which universe praise of the Soviet Union and Stalin comes even remotely close to outweighing criticism of actually existing socialism. I would like to visit it.

    Also, your complaint that devout Marxist-Leninists hardly ever criticize actually existing socialism is without foundation. Marxist-Leninists have written dozens of books on the subject, and have criticized Soviet bloc socialism in multifarious ways.

    Finally, you seem to have accepted as indisputable, though on what grounds it’s not clear, that the demise of the USSR is related to praxis. In this, you share something in common with most Marxist-Leninists, who, contrary to your impression, don’t attribute the demise of socialism to “imperialist bullying” and “fascists” but to the departure from “the correct line”, there being various views of what the correct line is.

    But what makes a praxis-related explanation more compelling than the view that there was nothing particularly wrong with socialist practice and much to admire about it and that the socialist countries lost a battle against a more formidable foe? Is there some reason to believe that the Cold War could have come out differently, if only the Soviet-bloc countries had adopted a different line? Perhaps. Or it could be that practice is largely constrained by circumstances, and that the circumstances were not at the time propitious for the survival of socialism?

    As a Marxist devoted to ruthlessly criticizing everything that exists, and considering that ‘everything’ includes your implicit assumption, shared with Marxist-Leninists in the main, that the USSR’s demise is praxis-related, you may wish to read Domineco Losurdo’s ‘ruthless criticism’ of this view.

    My preference is for a theory that says: “Here are the circumstances under which socialists were constrained to make a set of decisions. Here are the decisions that could have been made under these conditions, and here are the decisions, though desirable, that could not have been made.” However, this analysis may be completely unhelpful for making decisions about practice under current conditions, since current conditions may not match historical ones. By the same token, a sophisticated analysis of the decisions made by the Soviet leadership and the context in which they made them, as a way of understanding the demise of the USSR, may say far less than one would like about what the best practice is, here and now, since the decisions about how to run a socialist country in the mid to late 20th century in the face of implacable hostility from outside are hardly the same as decisions about how to bring about socialism in the capitalist core in the post-Cold War period. The best, then, that can be said about the Soviet experience is that socialism worked better in providing material security, economic growth, and physical quality of life than did capitalism in countries at the same level of economic development. Marx’s dictum to ruthlessly criticize everything that exists doesn’t mean “trash what worked”.

  23. What would be more interesting and productive than simply another article praising Stalin and the Soviet Union would be a criticism of the weaknesses of the system and ways to revise it to include more democratic aspects. The Marxist task is supposed to entail a “ruthless criticism of all that exists”, and yet I hardly see any criticism of Actually Existing Socialism by devout Marxist-Leninists. Why did it collapse? Why were there uprisings against the system over and over again? (The answers favored seems to be, in order, “Imperialist bullying” and “fascists” but those don’t provide a guide to new praxis GOING FORWARD.) Younger people are rightly much less interested in fighting Cold War ideological battles again, and much more interested in creating a socialist system that won’t go capitalist or surrender to the United States within a human lifetime.

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