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Did Communism Collapse?

Ten years ago this month Gorbachev was nearly relieved of power in a coup. It is ten years since those heady days of tanks in Moscow, Yeltsin in “The White House”, Yeltsin giving a speech on a tank, and workers fighting for democracy—although they didn't know what else they wanted, only that it shouldn't be the CPSU. The coup collapsed and the USSR eventually went with the perpetrators into historical oblivion. The western media greeted these events, which they have never given any indication of understanding how and why the happened, with hysteria: capitalism had won; we had reached the end of history; there was a New World Order; and socialism, communism and Marxism were dead.

It is unlikely that the media will do anything but repeat their tiresome “death of communism” mantra. It is also unlikely that they will analyse why August 1991 happened, despite having ten years to think about it. So let's look at their claim that “communism” collapsed in the USSR via a linguistical route.

The CPSU leaders never claimed that Soviet Russia was “communist”; they described their country as being “socialist”. Socialism, for them, was to be a period which was preparing communism. So straightaway the media's claim is at odds with the old Soviet leaders' own pronouncements.

Logically, then, they should have said that “socialism” had collapsed. This is, of course, not a nice thing to admit, since then “communism” could hardly be said to be dead, nor that history was at an end, since the New World Order could still be replaced by a Newer (Communist) World Order. So was it socialism that collapsed? Such a claim would have created new problems for the media pundits. The left-wing have not all supported the USSR; indeed non-socialist writers have also questioned the socialist credentials of Soviet Russia.

In Leninist theory, the state machine has to be smashed through insurrection and the economy nationalised under the auspices of workers' councils, but in reality under the vanguard party's political dictatorship. This is termed “the workers' state” or “socialism”. When Stalin began to eradicate all opposition, Trotsky developed the theory of the “degenerate workers' state”. He argued that the Soviet economy was basically socialist but that a party bureaucracy had smashed workers' control.

A section of the Trotskyist movement, later to be today's SWP, found this view so ridiculous that they said Stalin had restored capitalism to the USSR. This “restoration-of-capitalism” view was to appear again in two guises. After Stalin died in 1953, Nikita Khruschev became General Secretary. The Chinese Communist Party (under Mao) began to openly attack the CPSU as “reformists”¸ who were overseeing the restoration of capitalism. When Mao died, Enhver Hoxha (the Albanian dictator) said that capitalism had been restored under Khruschev and the new revisionist Chinese leaders.

It gets more bewildering. Lenin said that they were creating state capitalism in Russia as a necessary step forward; in addition he added, for complete maxi-confusion, that “socialism” was nothing but state capitalism made to benefit the people. The non-Leninist tradition was quick to point out that he was saying the same thing as Social Democrats, only that he thought the means to gain state power should be different. (Paul Mattick, in Marx and Keynes, analyses this quite nicely.) So there you have it: the founder of the USSR called black white. Fans of Douglas Adams will instantly recall the theological argument for the non-existence of God from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which ends up with Man getting knocked down at a zebra crossing.

How did this all arise? 1848—the publication of The Communist Manifesto; 1875—Marx's The Critique of the Gotha Programme; 1917—Lenin's The State and Revolution. Engels explained that he and Marx had to call their 1848 manifesto “Communist” in order to avoid being confused or associated with various movements calling themselves “socialist”. Engels and Marx, otherwise, used the words interchangeably. In The Critique Marx said that there would be two phases in communism – a “lower” and a “higher” phase, the lower phase rationing goods via labour vouchers (which aren't money). It was Lenin in 1917 who claimed that the lower phase of communism was commonly called socialism; which completely falsified the facts.

We in the Socialist Party have always insisted that socialism and communism are two words which differ in the same way as spade and shovel, i.e. not at all. We were also pretty clear in saying the Bolshevik coup d'état heralded the real onset of Russia's capitalist development, not the creation of socialism/communism. So what is the Marxist definition of socialism? A world-wide society based upon common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments of producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the world society. There will be no nations, states, commodity production, buying and selling, money or classes. Production will be based on the principle of: “from each according to their ability, to each according to their self-defined needs”.

So read this August's newspapers with a touch of salt; Marxism and Communism died in 1991? Certainly not!


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