More on Marx and the USSR
SCIABRRC at ACFcluster.NYU.EDU
SCIABRRC at ACFcluster.NYU.EDU
Tue Oct 4 10:32:40 MDT 1994
I'll just take up a few points raised by Paul Cockshott
in his response to my "Back in the USSR."
Paul asks: "Where does Marx say that communism will
arise by evolutionary rather than revolutionary means? It
seems that you are identifying the views of the reformist
wing of the SPD with Marx."
Of course Marx advocated the revolutionary establishment
of communism, but he fully recognized that material, social
forces had to EVOLVE to the point where the social order
would be "burst asunder." Any attempt to create a revolution
on the basis of a premature material foundation would be
doomed to fail, in Marx's view. Thus, the fully communist
society was NOT a constructivist design imposed from without,
but a transformation from within. People could not
consciously direct their future in the absence of a "set of
conditions of existence which in their turn are the
spontaneous product of a long and painful process of
I do not believe that the Soviet Union or ANY 20th
century incarnation of "socialism" fits Marx's vision. No
matter that "Third World" countries are ripe for revolution
because they are victims of "capitalist oppression." They
are NOT the paradigm that Marx projected.
Paul also asks: "What authoritarian cultural forms did
the Bolsheviks promote . . . "
This is a very complex question because, in general, the
whole revolutionary Russian cultural milieu was a study in
contradiction. On the one hand, there was a very real
anti-authoritarian movement against Czarist oppression. But
Czarist authoritarianism was undermined not only by the
Bolsheviks, but by other non-Bolshevik cultural movements,
including Russian neo-Idealism and Russian symbolism. What
made the Bolsheviks authoritarian was their gradual political
control of the intellectual environment. They understood, as
nearly all authoritarians have, that control of education and
culture is significant to the consolidation of power. So,
while, at first, they introduced sweeping educational
reforms, and encouraged the development of a "proletarian
culture," they gradually turned on any non-party
manifestations of that culture. They saw academic freedom as
a "bourgeois prejudice" and destroyed the "Old Guard"
intellectuals, leaving a huge void in the Soviet university
system. As private publishing houses closed, the very means
of dissent were undermined. Censorship was their leitmotif.
And then, all the trappings of authoritarian Party
control came to fruition. Students of "proletarian descent"
were allowed to matriculate without examination. Teacher and
student purges had the effect of crippling educational
growth. Ironically, the purges had the effect of removing
many female students in higher education, since most women
who attended university were of "bourgeois" origin. What
followed was a virtual reign of terror spearheaded by secret
police arrests and mass executions.
This all brings to mind what Engels said, in 1885. He
explained that revolutionaries are almost always robbed
"of their illusions . . . People who boasted that they
MADE a revolution have always seen the day after that they
had no idea what they were doing, that the revolution MADE
did not in the least resemble the one they intended to make.
This is what Hegel calls `the irony of history.'"
Paradoxically, both Marx and Engels would agree with
Hayek that history is the product not of deliberate human
design, but of unintended social consequences. Out of the
various conflicting intentions, something usually emerges
that is not merely unforeseeable, but sometimes entirely
OPPOSITE from the original plans of human actors and social
movements. Indeed, this was one of Marx's most insightful
criticisms of the utopians.
So, in the spirit of Marx, I am asking the Soviet
apologists among us to recognize the Soviet period for what
it was: a utopian vision that degenerated into a dystopian
nightmare. We can cite infinite reasons for this
degeneration; but it WAS a degeneration, and no amount of
historical whitewashing can erase it.
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, N.Y.U. Department of Politics
INTERNET: sciabrrc at acfcluster.nyu.edu
BITNET: sciabrrc at nyuacf
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