Back in the USSR

Thu Sep 29 13:36:10 MDT 1994

     My, my... it seems that my comments on "Hayek, USSR, and
All that..." have inspired a mini-avalanche of criticisms.  I
will try to address some of these in this posting.

     Paul Cockshott writes that my "attitude to the counter
revolution reminds me of that of some leftists to the
revolution.  When it does not turn out to be the utopia that
they expect, they claim that it was betrayed, that it was not
socialism, etc.  The project that Hayek and his political
followers have been following quite explicitly . . . is one
of capitalist reprise or counter revolution.  Well now you
have your counter revolution, but the Russians it seems are
too uncultured for it to succeed, the same reason given by
western leftists for an alleged failure of the Russian
revolution in the 20s."

     Forget my Hayekian predilections for a moment, and just
think about the original Marxian perspective on communism.
Marx argued that there was a two-stage process toward
communism.  The first stage can be loosely defined as a
proletarian dictatorship, in which state power is maximized
leads to the withering away of the state.  BOTH of these
stages - however utopian - were to emerge out of the massive
potential provided by ADVANCED capitalism.

     The Soviet Union MOST CERTAINLY did not attain advanced
capitalism.  It was an almost feudal "third world" country
run by autocratic Czars, steeped in the millenia of Russian
orthodoxy and Russian apocalypticism.  (Hence, it doesn't
surprise me that, as Paul puts it, most "proletarian
activists" continue to reside in the `Third World'.)  The
popular "success" of the Bolsheviks was made possible because
their movement integrated several Marxist revolutionary
concepts WITH endemic Russian mystic and authoritarian
cultural forms.  While there were a few progressive reforms
brought about by the revolution, that "revolution" remained a
`dialectical' outgrowth of its historical and cultural
context.  And this context was NOT what Marx had in mind when
he spoke of communism as the product of a long, evolutionary,
"spontaneous" development out of advanced capitalism.

     Let me settle another issue:  I never said that the
Russians or the British were too "uncultured to have
benefitted from Hayek's advice."  That's REALLY twisting my
words.  I merely restated a central concept of BOTH Hayekian
AND Marxian analysis:  there is no such thing as an economic
system which can be analyzed IN THE ABSTRACT.  Every economic
system must be understood and explained IN THE CONCRETE.  The
concrete INCLUDES the historical and systemic context.  We
cannot engage in an analysis of the on-going changes in the
former Soviet Union without grasping its context.  The USSR
was a country plagued with devastating problems, structural
economic decay, environmental devastation, a top-heavy
militarist political structure, inefficacious state
"planning," and bubbling ethnic strife.  The Soviet ideology
may have paid lip service to technological and industrial
progress, but Russian culture has always been notoriously
antithetical to "reason," "individualism," "science," and
"private property."  It is no coincidence, that without the
illusion of unity provided by a totalitarian state, a post-
Communist Russia is an ethnic and religious battleground.
One cannot evaluate the movement toward "Hayekian markets,"
in the absence of this broader historical and cultural
context.  The former Soviet Union has NOT embraced free
markets, the Hayekian "rule of law," the free flowing price
mechanism, the decentralization of communication, banking,
and finance, OR private property.  It stands opposed to
Marx's vision of communism AND Hayek's vision of capitalism.
What emerges from the ruins of Soviet statism is anyone's
guess; it may be a new virulent form of nationalism and

     And while we are on the subject, WHAT record of Soviet
achievements are we talking about?  Like most modern
dictatorships, the Soviet Union was adept at promoting
military-related `growth.'  For nearly every non-military,
consumer good, the Soviets suffered their own equivalent of
relative, structurally-entrenched price inflation, as
expressed through massive systemic shortages.  As for any
`legitimate' growth in the Soviet economy, please remember
that such `growth' did not take place in a "socialist"
vacuum.  After the devastating period of War Communism, which
wiped out markets, money, and production, the New Economic
Policy opened up Russia to Western-style industrialization.
Eventually, however, the Soviets expropriated all domestic
and foreign firms.  In the war years, they slurped at the
trough of Western Lend Lease.  (Contrary to Paul's belief,
the Soviet Red Army did not "almost single handedly" defeat
fascism....  without Western aid, the Soviets could NEVER
have survived.)  The infusion of Western technology continued
not through the achievement of countless Five Year Plans, but
through industrial espionage, the looting of post-World War
II Europe and the Far East, the expropriation of German
scientists, etc., etc., etc.  And if it weren't for the mass
proliferation of the entrepreneurial activities of the
"tolkach" on the black market, the Soviet economy would have
experienced near total collapse a long, long time ago.

     In addition, let us not forget the forced
collectivization of Soviet agriculture and the annihilation
of "counter-revolutionaries" which led to the deaths of
anywhere between seven and forty-five million people
(depending upon whose estimates you believe).  The Soviet
Union was a closed society, a police state; it terrorized its
inhabitants with censorship, the cancer ward, the gulag, the
informants, the knock at the door in the middle of the night.

     And yet, Paul tells us that one's perspective on the
Soviet "revolution" is "all a matter of class viewpoint."
Which class???  The Soviets may have destroyed the
`capitalist' class (and the `kulaks' and the `peasants,' and
the `Old Guard', etc.), but their dictatorship was surely not
representative of the `proletariat.'  Nor was it, for shame,
"closer to a democracy than any other state."  Not even if we
view a "democracy" as "mob rule," does this suggestion hold
true.  The suggestion in fact, would probably make Marx spin
in his grave!

     The Soviets established a "new class" of state
bureaucrats and party officials who redistributed economic
resources NOT to poor workers, but to those in heavy capital-
intensive and military industries.  Talk about the Permanent
War Economy!!!  If THIS is the record of "overwhelming . . .
success" that progressive radicals should emulate, I'll
remain a card-carrying Hayekian until the day I die!!!

     Marketization is NOT the cause of poverty and starvation
in socialist (or FORMER socialist) countries.  Marketization,
privatization, and the introduction of the price system is
PART of the solution.  Prices and markets REVEAL distortions
and chaotic calculational conditions; they do not CAUSE them.
The shortages were there long before markets were introduced,
and they will be there long after.  It may take generations
to turn around the economic, political, cultural, and socio-
psychological damage done by Soviet (and Sino, and Cuban,
etc.) statism.

                              - Chris

Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, N.Y.U. Department of Politics
INTERNET:  sciabrrc at
  BITNET:  sciabrrc at nyuacf


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