Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Sun Apr 16 14:20:09 MDT 1995

I agree with Scott that individuals have important effects on history and
that Gorbachev's policies accelerated the destruction of the Soviet state.
See Michael Ellman's collection, The Disintegration of the Soviet
Economic System. E and his authors argue that G took apart an economic
system that was tottering but functional for the (then) present and failed
to replace it with anything.

However, I disagree with Scott that the Sovier economy was fundamentally
sound. The reason that G's reforms appealed to the bureaucracy in the
first place was a perceived crisis which had affected the system since the
mid-late '70s. See Ellman again, or various other sources I could name. On
some estimates if you take out the oil revenues the Soviet economy did not
grow at all from 1978 to 1982. And quantitative growth is only one
measure--the quality of the goods ands services produced was shockingly
discgracefulm with only 20% or less of the USSR's production being
marketable outside the CMEA. The fall in the life expectancy in the USSR
starting in about 1973, after years of rising, is evidence of this.

On democratization G's record is mixed, but I think on-balance positive.
He clearly had the misaapprehension that democracy--competive elections,
little censorship, freedom of association--was compatible with
Communist Party rule. He made no particular effort to revitalize the
soviets, destroyed under Lenin, or to encourage the development of
independent trade unions. But, and this is the important thing, he did
not actively oppose the development of a grassroots civil society, ujnlike
his predecessors. And when push came to shove he gave up the Party
monoploy of power insread of reasserting it by brute force. By that time
it was too late, of course.

I disagree with Scott that G wanted to dismantle the USSR, the Party, and
the institutions of Soviet power. A reform Communist to the core, he
sought to make them modern, democratic, and viable. The problem is, this
was opposed to their nature.

In my paper in Socialist Register 1991, I said (writing in Jan 1991) that
G could have gone the socialist route, fulfulling the promise of October,
and turned the factories over to the workers and the farms to the
peasants. Or he could have gone the Pinochet route, imposing market
relatioons with an iron hand. But either alternative would have required
him to give up on Soviet style Communism and the leading roleof the Party.
In the end, he could not do this, and so his project was doomed.

I don't expect this to persuade someonew who is a CP member still, today.

--Justin Schwartz

On Sun, 16 Apr 1995, Scott Marshall wrote:

> >Personally I think it is wrong to blame or praise Gorby for the recent
> >Soviet-->Russoan events.
> Gorby certainly didn't move histroy by himself, but surely the individual
> can play important roles at different times in moving history forward - in
> that since I would condemn Gorby.
> >The system was in an advanced state of decay, as
> >witness its almost effortless complete collapse. G's policies seem to have
> >hastened the fall, but the fall was coming, G or no G. I do think G gets
> >some points for supporting democratization and resisting a turn to
> >repression, unlike Yeltsin.
> This is sweeping beyond belief. What evidence. Take for instance the GNP
> which the CIA dutifully reported for years was stagnating, but now admits
> that it was growing at a faster rate (around 3.5% I believe) that the US in
> the same period.
> As to democritization - bah humbug. Gorby took powers away from every grass
> roots institiution he could decimate and centralized it in his apparatus
> willy nilly under the guise of "glasnost". The main purpose of glasnost was
> to provide cover for dismantling the economy and Soviet power.
> Scott
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