Soviet statistics

Andrew Wayne Austin aaustin at
Sat Aug 21 12:47:19 MDT 1999

On Fri, 20 Aug 1999, James Farmelant wrote:

>You seem to be supposing that  the Soviet Union could have
>continued to follow a policy of autarky indefinately.  I don't
>think they had any such option.  Sooner or later they would
>have had to confront the fact that continued economic growth
>would not be possible without an increasing participation in
>the international division of labor.

I have not supposed indefinite existence for any historical system. I
disagree with your claim that continued economic growth depended on
increased participation in the GDL (and/or market reforms, worker control,
etc.). In fact, it is the opposite for GDL participation. It is
participation in the GDL that causes peripheralization *when the
developmental dynamic is capitalist*. Those countries lying outside of the
core that have developed within the modern world-system have done so
either through state organization of indigenous capitalist development and
tightly controlled linkage to the GDL focused on competitive advantage or
state organization of socialist development coupled with significant
delinkage from the GDL. The latter approach is far and away the superior
one and moreover the only genuine alternative historical form of
development to capitalism.

>  Yet, as you point out doing this when the global economy was
>predominantly capitalist also left them increasingly exposed to
>capitalism's business cycles.  The problem here is as Trotsky argued
>"socialism in one country" or even a bloc of countries is not really
>possible over the longrun.  On the other hand the type of world
>revolution that Trotsky looked forward to has not occured either.

But it was never socialism in one country. The Soviet Union was the hub of
a socialist *world-economy*. This is what the West has called "Soviet
Imperialism"; but it wasn't imperialism, if that word is to have any
specific meaning. It was just the opposite. Whereas imperialism in the
capitalist world-economy (and in other world-systems, such as the Roman
Empire) peripheralized external areas incorporated into the system, the
Soviet Union's external behavior, which was extensive, *developed*
formerly peripheral zones. It may be true that socialism in one country
cannot survive over the long haul, but we do have an example of this
until after the dismantling of the Soviet Union. It remains to be seen how
long North Korea and Cuba can last. So far, socialism in one country is
hanging on (and let's hope it continues holding on).

>for many decades it was very successful indeed, certainly successful
>enough to incite fear and unease in the ruling circles of the West.
>The success of the Soviet Union helped to make the ruling classes in the
>West to be more accepting of the development of the welfare state and of
>some degree of social democracy.  Likewise, the collpse of the USSR has
>encouraged Western ruling classes to believe that they can get away with
>scuttling the welfare state and social democracy.  I suspect that they
>will find that they are wrong about this but the collapse of the USSR
>has given them great encouragment.

All excellent points.

>I certainly wouldn't deny any of this but we must still confront the
>fact that Soviet state socialism had its own internal contradictions and
>that its failure to resolve these contradictions in a progressive manner
>and this failure led to its collapse.

I disagree. Contradictions notwithstanding, I believe the Soviet Union was
wrongly dismantled, not collapsing under the weight of its internal
contradictions. Had the Soviet Union remained strong politically and had
reversed its course of plugging ever more deeply into the capitalist
world-economy it would have survived the global crisis and would now
probably be flourishing. But we will never know now.

>The fact that Russian capitalism has failed even more dismally does not
>change this fact.

Russian capitalism hasn't failed. It is working. Moreover capitalism in
Russia is directly linked to the loss of state socialism there.

>Indeed, jusging from presently available evidence I think that the
>longterm prospects for the Russian people are very bleak indeed.  Mark
>Jones has suggested that the Russians may suffer the same fate as the
>American Indians.

This is probably an appropriate analogy. This is what happens when a zone
is so peripheralized that it is in danger of being completely abandoned.
The contrast between then and now for the Russian people is mind-boggling.

>I think you perhaps misunderstand my point.  Yes, I do think that the
>relations of production that existed in the Soviet Union did eventually
>become fetters on the forces of production (otherwise why did
>the Soviet Union experience a prolonged economic slowdown).

The slowdown was global. Because the state socialist world-economy exists
in a world-system where the dominant logic of development is capitalist
(indeed, the Soviet Union and its satellites were competitors with the
capitalist core and its satellites in the larger system) it suffered
under the downswing of the global rhythm. The way to survive this was to
pull out of the joint system to an even greater degree, thereby insolating
the economy from the global drag. The Soviet Union did the opposite!
Their elites were listening to advisers stupidly telling them, contrary to
all the evidence and the clear history of Soviet economic development (a
history well-known to capitalist elites, as well), that to right the
economic ship they needed to plug into the world-system.

> Unfortunately, there emerged no viable socialist alternative both to
>either the then existing model or to the capitalist model that came
>afterwards.  I remember that back when Gorbachev was in power he
>used to say that he believed that he could reform the system without
>having to plunge the USSR into a "cultural revolution" - in obvious
>reference to China's experiences of the 1960s and 1970s.

Gorbachev's policies were a huge mistake. He couldn't have come at a worse
time. What was needed was strong leaders who could have steered the
economy through its turbulance until the accumulation cycle could have
began again--in fact, they could have then organized another accumulation

>The collapse of the USSR is the greatest human disaster of our time.

I certainly agree with this, James.

>When we abandon the idea that historical materialism provides us with a
>teleological theory of history it becomes evident that there is nothing
>inevitable about the contradictions of a given mode of production being
>resolved in a progressive manner.  This was recognized by Marx in the
>Communist Manifesto when he wrote about the possibility of a class
>struggle ending in the common ruin of the contending classes as he
>suggested happened with the Roman Empire.  I would suggest that
>something like that has happened with the former USSR.  Millions of
>people are suffering the consequences.

I need to think about whether Marx's thought is applicable here. It is an
interesting metaphor in any case.


More information about the Marxism mailing list