stalin, etc.

Michael Yates mikey+ at SPAMpitt.edu
Sat Aug 7 20:30:46 MDT 1999



Mark Jones correctly pointed out that I made intemporate remarks in a
previous post.  Now I cannot match his knowledge of The Soviet Union or
Stalin or a host of other things.  However, as I understand it, the
Soviet CP under Stalin functioned as a dogmatic party intolerant of
criticism even from communists. And the basic economic ideas of Stalin
were, in my view, flawed.  The focus on developing the forces of
production at the expense of the relations of production, which remained
essentially capitalistic (Taylorism in the factories) and a strategy of
capital accumulation differing little from the primitive accumulation of
capital under capitalism, and so forth, was not correct in my view.

Yet, these are my views, and they can certainly be debated. (I might
even admit to being an unreconstructed Maoist, at least in terms of
agricultural strategy, relations between town and city, encouragement of
class struggle within socialism etc.)  After all, the Soviet Union
performed pretty well by conventional economic indicators well into the
1970s, not much different than in comparable capitalist economies. And
its achievements in socializing consumption were significant as was the
support it gave to struggles in Cuba and elsewhere (though, as I
understand it, not in Greece and elsewhere) However, there does not seem
to have been,and again from what I know, any greater tolerance for
dissent and disagreement, even when the much greater security of the
nation might very well have allowed it and might have profited from it.
As I see it, the Soviet Union was, during Stalin's rule and after, a
class society without any movement in the direction of a more
egalitarian one, one in which a privileged class aimed at maintaining
its privilege whatever the cost. And this very same privileged class,
who once proclaimed themselves to be communists, have been busy looting
the people's property since the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Somehow
communism as a way of life, as selfless dedication to the communist
revolution did not take very deep roots among them. (By the way, I have
drawn useful information on all of this from Daniel Singer's new book,
"Whose Millenium?  Theirs or Ours?" Singer's father barely survived one
of Stalin's labor camps and most of the rest of his family was killed by
the Nazis).  But this could not be debated.  Nor could the, again in my
view, distorted view of Marxism promulgated by the CP.

The problems of the Soviet CP were exported to the CPs of the rest of
the world, often with bad effects.  The members of the U.S. CP were
often extraordinarily valiant and did much good, in the unions, for
example, and I have publicly said so, as I have praised Lenin and the
Soviet Union too. But the CP leaders were as dogmatic as their Soviet
counterparts, precisely because they did not act independently or with a
comradely spirit of debate and undogmatic analysis based upon objective
circumstances in thier own countries.

On a personal note, I once had dealings with the newsletter, "Economic
Notes." This newsletter was founded by Solon DeLeon, son of Daniel
DeLeon.  It was filled with a lot of good information useful to me in my
teaching and political activities.  It was (I do not know much of
anything about it today) closely allied with the US CP (such as this was
in the late 1970s). I don't remember how, but I developed a
correspondence with its editor and eventually wrote three articles for
it. In connection with my correspondence, I was asked to write a
handbook on the labor law, aimed at working people.  I worked diligently
on this project for two years or so.  The editor had pretty much assured
me that it would be published by International Publishers, the CP
publisher in the US. In the meantime we had some heated debate about the
Soviet Union, centering around comments I had made in an article
published in a special issue of Monthly Review on China.  He assured me
that things in the Soviet Union were not as I had suggested in my
article (BTW,as I remember, it did not matter to him what I said about
China, which for him, was more or less beyond the revolutionary pale).
His proof was that he had lived there and not witnessed these things but
in fact their opposite.  I expressed great skepticism about this line of
argument; a person could live a long while here in the US and not know
much about what went on, especially if he were a guest from a foreign
nation and hosted by leading lights of one of the two political parties.
It was curious but not long after this discussion, my manuscript began
to run into roadblocks and from the editor, a deafening silence.
Readers said I had not focused adequately on this or that, so many
readers and so many thises and thats that it became apparent that the
boook would never be published by International. I just quit
corresponding, sent the manuscript (all of it, in finished form), and it
was quickly accepted by another publisher and eventually published.  It
was a useful book and fairly well received by workers.  But it always
seemed to me that the CPers were not willing to discuss differences.
Instead they decreed and those who did not go along or were skeptical
just did not matter. To me this is no way to build a movement and no
movement built on such lines is ever likely to build a communist
society.

I want to add in fairness that the editor of "Economic Notes" wrote a
leter of recommendation for my promotion to full professor (before our
disagreement), and I was and am very grateful to him for this.

michael yates









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