Yes, Stalin was indeed a killer. He killed Hitler and for this we must be thankful. A balanced communist evaluation of the Stalin period has to come to the conclusion that on most of the important decisions that would determine the immediate future of the Soviet Union, Stalin not only held the correct Marxist-Leninist position but also led the struggle to ensure this position would win out. The errors of the Stalin period were, for the most part, not those of strategic line but those of implementation. The presumed infallibility of the Party or its supreme leader substituted for a collective worker-based procedure of Marxist-Leninist error correction.
The mistakes of the Stalin period, not all of them initiated by Stalin himself, also include crude, inflexible, mechanical applications of policy accompanied by insufficient legal safeguards to differentiate friend from enemy or the guilty from the innocent. A hierarchy of command became entrenched, the purpose of which was to implement orders originating at the top. Leadership is indeed important — it can be fatally decisive — but a wise leadership encourages a vital, informed, active working class with decision-making authority. Unfortunately, top-down commandism reached the shop floor level in the late s with the proclamation of a Soviet decree law that drastically altered the relationship between shop-floor workers and factory management.
Henceforth, a trend set in whereby managers managed and workers worked. The truth is Stalin was brilliantly correct in his defeat of Trotsky and Bukharin and in his building up of the Soviet Union to vanquish the military might of Nazi Germany and fascism. But the seeds of long-term defeat were also sown during this period. On this the authors are mainly silent. The authors do, however, realize that the fuel for the counterrevolutionary explosion that destroyed the Soviet Union was provided by the accumulation of uncorrected mistakes and that the detonator was the complete capture of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union CPSU by revisionism.
But Keeran and Kenny are not always clear as to which mistakes were decisive and in which period of Soviet history they first appeared. New investigations must be made, either by Keeran and Kenny or by others, which give priority to this line of inquiry. Russian workers did make revolution in But by the Gorbachev period this ability, while still a potential, was not expressed in actuality. How and when did this loss of working-class skills come about?
The authors do not pursue this line of inquiry, but the demise of the Soviet Union can only be adequately explained by doing so. The two questions are intertwined and the answer to one is necessary for the answer of the other. Another weakness in this otherwise fine book is that it has a tinge of elite managerialism to it and neglects that class which has the power to actually determine historical outcomes. But it is the vast majority of ordinary Soviet workers on the shop floor, construction sites and toiling in mines that are slighted as if their opinions or political development do not have determinative value.
The authors chose to erect their observational platform not adjacent to the clanking machinery of an assembly line or even from the elevated glass-walled office of the factory manager who views the workers from on high, but from within the windowless boardroom where Politburo CEOs make decisions on the future fortunes of the Soviet working class. Correct decisions and we get socialism, leading to communism. Incorrect decisions and capitalism comes back.
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But it is the Soviet working class that must build socialism. To view the locus of subjective wisdom as residing at the top of the CPSU has proved disastrous. The authors compare Soviet socialism to an airplane that crashed because it had a bad pilot. True, but why was a bad pilot allowed into the cockpit? Somewhere between Lenin and Gorbachev, strict, honest, working-class vetting was replaced by an unhindered, dishonest and opportunist careerism. A major defect of Soviet society was a top-down, political commandism.
Nevertheless it was ordered and implemented by those at the top anyway. Accepting the fact that commandism had become the Soviet norm, the authors of Socialism Betrayed believed that by focusing their inquiry at the highest levels they can gain insight into which mistakes brought down the Soviet Union. Correct, but not correct!
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The question that should have been asked is: How did the Soviet Union become so hierarchically structured and command-orientated that decisions taken by the top could destroy a new mode of production that negated the previous class systems of slavery, feudalism and capitalism?
And further, why did such fatal decisions result in a very concerned, but only timidly organized opposition instead of a massive working-class rebellion led by Marxist-Leninists? What process had burned out working-class initiative and Marxist-Leninist understanding from the institutions of Soviet power? For those who still look to the top for salvation we should ask this question: would a different configuration of top-down orders have saved socialism in the USSR? The Soviet Union was deficient in this third necessary element for building socialism.
The dictatorship of the proletariat must be precisely that, a dictatorship of the proletariat. Its political functions cannot be outsourced to other strata but must be utilized by the working class itself every day, every hour, every minute and every second, until classes no longer exist. The verbal condemnations of such practices were directed backwards at one individual —the dead Stalin, and did not apply to non-consultative orders issued by the Politburo and upper-Party hierarchy.
Viewed from the top, commandism had, of course, been corrected — power no longer resided in a supreme leader, but in a collective Politburo. Viewed from the working-class bottom, little had changed. It was the same old, same old.
Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union
Gorbachev engineered the demolishing of the remaining planned economy and the remaining shell of a hollowed-out superstructure and the USSR was no more. They mention it only in passing, for example, noting the fact that Khrushchev declared it abolished, but they elaborate no further. The authors obviously do not view this absolutely necessary institution as very important.
Another befuddled argument of Socialism Betrayed is that the Soviet Union was not done in by a lack of democracy. Democracy exists not in the abstract but in the concrete and is always class based. Democracy is not some sort of linear fluid that flows out of a spigot into any shape or size of container and can be measured quantitatively — one litre, two litres, etc. There existed a growing contradiction between its democratic content and the form of its expression.
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Firstly, the voice of shop floor workers gave way to managerial fiat. Secondly, the soviets in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, while continuing to exist and in theory able to initiate action, became in reality mainly perfunctory and ceremonial organizations. Thirdly, real power was held by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union — in practice, by the Politburo.
The CPSU changed into its opposite — from the Party of building socialism to the party of capitalist counterrevolution. The Soviet working class no longer had any form through which to express its democratic content. The Lenin of State and Revolution certainly thought so. They correlate ideological trends and leaders with social and economic forces — that is, they correctly seek out a class explanation. Due to the high volume of feedback, we are unable to respond to individual comments. Sorry, but we can't respond to individual comments.
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