Wednesday, November 21, 2007

La URSS, la contra-revolucion de terciopelo

Twisting and turning




L'URSS et la contre-révolution de velours. By Ludo Martens. EPO, Brussels.




Normally we would let the dead bury the dead. And this book ("The USSR: The Velvet Counter-Revolution") clearly comes into this category, written as it is by someone -the leader of a Maoist party in Belgium- who believes that Stalin was a Great Man and Trotsky a Hitlerite agent. But it reveals an interesting twist to the argument over the nature of the social system in Russia when the Communist Party was in power there.




In the course of their disputes with the rulers of Russia, the rulers of China (Mao) and of Albania (Enver Hodja) came to characterise Russia as "state capitalist". This was largely name-calling but Mao and Hodja got their State ideologists to work it up into some kind of theory; which, in Martens's words, went like this:




"In the Soviet Union, Khrushchev's coup d'Etat marked the capture of power by a new big-bourgeoisie, made up of the high officials of the Party and State, who de facto own the means of production and who appropriate the surplus value created by the workers. The Soviet State is a collective capitalist".




As it happened, this description of who the Russian ruling class were and how they owned the means of production and exploited the workers was substantially correct, except why did this suddenly come to apply only in 1953 when Khrushchev took over after Stalin died? Since the political and economic structure was the same, if it applied to Russia under Khrushchev it ought logically to apply to Russia under Stalin too. Indeed, it ought logically to apply as well to China under Mao and Albania under Hodja.




As we pointed out at the time, in characterising Russia as capitalist the Maoists were more advanced than the Trotskyists who still clung to the absurd view that Russia was some sort of "workers state" . However, in so doing they were also underlining their own defence of the Chinese and Albanian regimes which of course were also examples of state capitalism.




And this is what happened. After the so-called Cultural Revolution some ex-Red Guards came to apply the same analysis to China under Mao. Others went further and applied it to Russia under Stalin. As Martens describes it from his point of view:




"The whole French New Right, of the "former-Maoist-New-Philospher" type, started from the analysis of the restoration of capitalism under Khrushchev to then discover that the "bases" of this restoration had already been laid by Stalin".




Some went even further, such as Michael Volslensky in his book The Nomenklatura (recommended reading, incidentally, for anyone wanting to understand the ancien régime in Russia) whose views Martens quotes as the final proof that the new class/state capitalist analysis of Russia was wrong and should be abandoned:




"Neither the Leninist party nor its core has ever been the vanguard or even a simple part of the working class . . . In the event of the revolution they were preparing being victorious, this small group would automatically become an organisation of professional leaders. It is thus that Lenin created the embryo of a new ruling class".




Mao, Stalin and Lenin as advocates and practitioners of state capitalism, this is where the theory Mao and Hodja patronised in the 1960s and 70s led! This has proved too much for today's Maoist remnants who have now decided to abandon it as a "leftist" deviation. Martens backtracks on a view which he says he held and ardently defended for twenty years, in these terms:




"We believed at the time that Khrushchev had established a new specific mode of production, state capitalism, a higher form of capitalism where the "nomenklatura" collectively owns the means of production. This thesis isn't tenable".




He now believes that Khrushchev didn't after all "restore" capitalism in 1953; all he did was to embark on a course that would eventually lead to "the restoration of capitalism" but that this didn't actually occur till Yeltsin came to power in 1991; in the meantime the Russian economy remained "basically socialist".




So the Maoists have now retreated to the same absurd position as the Trotskyists they hate: that Russia from Stalin to Gorbachov was still basically socialist even if those at the top were feathering their own nests (as if the absence of a privileged group in society wasn't the essence of socialism).




This view has the added advantage -and is probably a major factor in their U-turn- of allowing the ex-pro-Chinese Communists to make it up with those ex-pro-Russian Communists who haven't become open reformists, so that they can both rally round the remaining "socialist countries" (Cuba, North Korea, China, Vietnam and Laos). On reflection, perhaps we should have left the dead to bury the dead.




(May 1996)

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