Soviet statistics

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Sat Aug 21 12:43:21 MDT 1999


    Thanks for the very interesting article. I'd like to share with you and
others on the list some relfections on this.

    I don't know if you're familiar with the "rectification of errors"
campaign begun in Cuba in the mid-1980s, at around the same time that Gorby
was initiating his reforms in the USSR.

    Gorbachev's policies -- a more or less gradual introduction of
restrcited elements of formal democracy -- "lifted the lid,"  so to speak,
on the Soviet bureaucracy, allowing it to more-or-less consciously and
explicitly formulate and pursue its aspirations of becoming real masters of
their house, i.e., owners. The leader of this dominant faction was Yeltsin.
The defeat of the attempted coup against Gorby marked the victory of this
faction against Gorbachev's effort, which was to introduce what you might
call "elements" of a political revolution in a cold way from above, coupled
with a consumation of the long-standing policy of peaceful coexistence
through a negotiated end to the cold war.

    Cuba's reforms included re-emphasizing what some called the economic
"ultraleftism" and "volunteerism" of the early years of the revolution, the
streess on moral rather than material incentives and greater reliance on
"paying back"  the working people collectively, through projects that
contribute to enhanced living standards across a wide layer of the
population, instead of just through increasing individual purchasing power
and possibilities for individual acquisition.

    Of course, in Cuba the "economic calculus"  of Soviet-style planning
never ruled as absolutely (and to the degree it was applied, it was,
frankly, not applied as technically competently) as in the Soviet bloc
itself. But the point isn't so much about exact structures and precise
percentages, but about politics.

    The old Cuban line from the 1970s had willy-nilly gradually been
distancing the population away from involvement in economic decision making
and planning. It had led to increasing individual rewards, and to a decrease
in voluntary labor, participation in mass organizations and so on. There was
an increased reliance on capitalist market mechanisms. The "rectification"
line from the mid-80s sought to increase the day-to-day involvement the
working people collectively as protagonists in the building of a new

    This was quite different from Gorby's amendments to the soviet model.
Those tended, I think, in the direction of reproducing on the basis of
nationalized property, a sort of "Western" atomized population. As workers,
people were expected to produce in exchange for wages. In their free time
they were expected to consume, and every year or two or three they would be
allowed to participate through a vote.

    The Cuban change was based, I believe, mostly on their own experiences,
but also partly in their observations of other revolutionary processes,
their intimate knowlege of the weaknesses of the socialist bloc, and recent
developments in the Nicaraguan and Grenadian revolutions, which Fidel
followed very closely. The Grenadian coup had been preceded by a marked
downturn in mass participation and mobilizations. In NIcaragua also by the
mid-80s, under the pressure of the imperialist-sponsored contra war and the
economic crisis it spawned, one could see a similar phenomenon. I believe
the "rectification" campaign represented a more mature thinking through of
HOW to build socialism, on the basis now of a quarter century of their own
experiences and close knowlege of the experiences of other societies.

    I do not believe the 1989-1991 collapse of the USSR and the Soviet bloc
was "inevitable," at least not necessarily right then. A big part of the
reason for the relative malaise of the Soviet and Eastern European economies
during much of the Brezhnev period was, precisely, Brezhnev and those
associated most closely with him. This was a big factor in why Gorby wound
up in power -- the top leadership realized they were going nowhere fast,
that they needed a change.

    At least some experienced Cuban economists think that, basically, the
Soviets and Eastern Europeans blew it beginning in the 1970s in the fields
of technological and scientific research. They tend to contrast that with
the great emphasis given to science and technology in the post-WWII period,
which led to breaking the U.S. nuclear monopoly and the Soviet's
achievements in missile technology and the "space race." A correction of
this error, given Moscow's ability to redirect resources, might well have
led to a "socialist"  version of the current U.S. technology boom,
especially since what would be involved would be following the footsteps of
the West and developing new applications for existing technology.

    One thing the collapse did show was how fragile the hold of the
bureaucracies were in those societies. The nomenklatura had very little
legitimacy in the eyes of the population, or even in its own eyes. It makes
me think that any liberalization, without a strong countervailing pressure
of a class conscious movement by the working people, would simply be a
removal of the historical fetters that had kept the bureaucracy tied to the
property forms that arose from the October revolution, freeing its
collective --and for the longest time, submerged-- aspiration to become a
"real" ruling class, with an open and "legitimate" --through property--
control of society.

    The most surprising thing to me of the whole Eastern European experience
was the lack on a significant response by the working people. I would have
expected at least a significant minority to fight to defend nationalized
property and the actual social benefits it makes possible. This is perhaps
the most telling lesson of all in refuting the idea that socialist
construction is a process of economic development measured in tons of steel,
new factories, and GDP growth. All of that needs to be subordinated and done
in the framework of creating a new and different kind of society, of
creating new and different social relations. Without and organized working
class that defends the new society because it is its own creation, even the
most impressive economic foundation can turn to sand.


-----Original Message-----
From: Louis Proyect <lnp3 at>
To: marxism at <marxism at>
Date: Friday, August 20, 1999 12:24 PM
Subject: Re: Soviet statistics

>From Dollars and Sense Magazine: WHY DID THE USSR FALL?
>By David Kotz and Fred Weir
>David Kotz teaches economics at the University of Massachusetts-- Amherst.
>Fred Weir is a journalist living in Russia. This article is based on their
>book, REVOLUTION FROM ABOVE: The Demise of the Soviet System (NY:
>Routledge, 1997).
>Conventional wisdom tells us that the remarkable demise of the Soviet Union
>in 1991 was propelled by the collapse of its socialist economy, leading the
>citizenry to peacefully sweep aside the nation's Communist leadership and
>their misbegotten socialist system. Yet, if one inquires into the
>whereabouts of the allegedly deposed Communist leaders, one finds most of
>them not languishing in exile, but still in high-level positions in the 15
>new nations that emerged from the USSR. Furthermore, most of them are a
>great deal richer than they were before the Soviet Union's demise. Two
>years after this odd revolution, 11 of these 15 new nations were headed by
>former top Communists.
>In contrast to the conventional wisdom, the Soviet revolution of 1991 was
>made, not against the small elite that ran the Soviet Union, but rather by
>that elite. And it was not a collapse of the USSR's planned economy that
>drove this process, because no such collapse took place. While the Soviet
>planned economy encountered serious problems after the mid-197Os, it was
>far from collapsing at the end of the 198Os. Rather, the Soviet elite
>dismantled their own system in pursuit of personal enrichment.
>Correctly understood, the USSR's downfall was caused by the undemocratic
>features of its system, not by the failure of economic planning. This
>interpretation provides hope that a democratic form of socialism would
>bring about greatly improved living conditions and economic stability for
>all members of society, not just an elite-- whether capitalist or

[rest of the article ommitted -- that was main point]

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