Why did the USSR fall?

Les Schaffer schaffer at SPAMoptonline.net
Sun Apr 22 10:55:26 MDT 2001

[ from Mark Jones ]

I've been arguing againt this idea for a while now. Kotz/Weir are not
Marxists, they are what I would call fellow-travelling muckrakers and
conspiracy-theorists, ie, they are people we should support and who
are generally sympathetic to our cause but they are not Marxists and
you cannot rely on them analytically. The idea that the USSR fell
because the elite saw a suitable self-aggrandising moment may
encapsulate a fragment of existential historical reality but actually
explains less than nothing. The elite only got their chance because of
a deep underlying systemic crisis, ie because the SU was caught in a
profound historical impasse from which there were only 2 ways out:
another revolution, or a capitalist restoration. What we got was the
second alternative, albeit under the sign of the first. It was not a
viable social order, and that was why it collapsed. Largely spurious
economic data prove nothing except the gullibility of economists,
especially social-democrat economists.

When in 1921 Russia crawled out of the social abyss left by world war,
revolution and civil war, it was in a worse state by any test than it
was in 1985. Nevertheless, the period after 1921 saw huge social
change and economic growth. Arguably, the same bases for long term
recovery within a socialist framework also existed in 1985 and even in
1991. Cuba has shown how revolutions can be reconsolidated even in the
most dire circumstances. But to do that, you have to still have
politics (not the law of value) in command.  There is no arguing
against the fact that by 1985 the Soviet ruling elite was incredibly
orrupt, philistine and self-seeking and was incapable of renewal,
incapable of anythign but abject surrender to imperialism on
terms. The terms being its own conversion into a quisling apparatus, a
vehicle of self-enrichment and above all, of imperialist plunder. All
of this is true and is one important starting point for analysing what
happened. But it is also true that the SU could not have simply
continued as it was. There were counter-revolutions bursting thru the
frozen carapace of 'actually-existing socialism' throughout eastern
Europe. The collapse of the CMEA/Warsaw Pact area alone made the
Soviet denouement inevitable and unavoidable.

Basically what 'went wrong' was what has been going wrong throughout
the postwar world system since at least 1973: an underlying
productivity malaise and systemic resource and ecological crisis, most
radically indicated by the chronic and growing energy crisis. Soviet
oil production collapsed between 1985 and 1991 (something which I
don't think Weir/Kotz refer to or even understand the significance
of). This material fact alone guaranteed a sharp social crisis. The SU
did not have access to the world energy market, indeed was itself a
subordinate aprt of that market and figured only as an energy
supplier. Therefore the SU was not able to offload the costs of
emergent crisis onto Latin America, South Asia, Africa etc, as was the
Reagan-reconstructed capitalist world economy, which successfully
managed the OPEC oilshocks in the 1980s. What was needed was an
internal renewal of socialist and revolutionary proletarian
values. This happened in Cuba, and showed its results. It was possible
in the SU; what however was not possible was simply to drift on in the
old Brezhnevite way. There were forces of renewal, as a matter of
fact, but they were not strong enough to prevail.  Instead, the
country plunged into an abyss of criminality and imperial
looting. This not only enriched the West, it also made it much more
difficult to return to a socialist path, as was intended by the
West. But what is important from our point of view is to recognise the
extent to which Brezhnev's USSR had become a subordinate part of the
capitalist world system and therefore a prey to its own crises and
contradicitons. The USSR's fall was a crisis for the working class but
it was also and more fundamentally a crisis of capitalist
accumulation. Russian oil production has not recovered despite ten
invigorating years of capitalism, in fact it is still in decline.
This is the real measure of the world crisis. Soviet Russia had become
by 1985 only one more link in the chain of world capitalism; when that
link fell into the abyss it dragged the whole chain with it. There is
a debate on this list about the differential calculus: perhaps one of
the more numerate contributors can remind us of what happens when
chains begin to slide off ledges.


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