[Marxism] The two souls of socialism

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Fri Aug 19 13:20:30 MDT 2005

Charles Brown says he agrees with Callinicos's description of the USSR
as "a barbarous replica of the global system" caused by capitalist
pressure and the failure to have "a powerful enough global movement to
break the power of capital globally."

I guess in a popular sort of setting I might not object to a lot of this
wording, but in a debate that takes up fundamental programmatic and
theoretical concepts, I can't agree with Callinicos nor Charles Brown. 

The Soviet Union was not just Stalin or the bureaucracy: it was also the
embodiment of certain conquests by the working people, not just of the
territories of the USSR, but of the world. The overly simplistic
"socialism from below"/"state capitalism" analytical framework fails to
make this distinction. 

It's like the Teamsters: Hoffa himself might be a completely abominable
replica of the corporate executive, but that doesn't make the Teamsters
a company union, and even though this leadership does tremendously
undermine the IBT's effectiveness, lead it to take all sorts of crummy
positions, etc., it is still a union and its existence does protect
workers to a certain degree. 

Without the existence of the USSR it is very doubtful that many of the
anticolonial revolutions would have triumphed, and almost certainly the
Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban revolutions would have been stillborn or
murdered in their infancy.

The counterrevolutions of 1989-1991 were a catastrophe not just for the
working people of those countries but everywhere, as they represented a
fundamental shift in the relationship of class forces on a world scale.

I also question Callinicos's solution that to avoid this, only a
revolutionary movement "powerful enough ... to break the power of
capital globally" will do, anything short of that is a diversion. This
leads these comrades concretely not to see that Cuba and Venezuela,
rather than representing some weird peculiar phenomenon without major
significance, are in fact the vanguard of the world revolution today,
and that isn't a small thing. It tends to lead to workerist and
euro/america-centric errors that underestimate the centrality of the
national movements against imperialism in the fight for socialism.

This idea of a "socialism from below" current arose at a specific time
under specific historical circumstances. It has a degree of validity in
popularization of socialist ideas and educational work, but when taken
on as a fundamental analytical-theoretical framework, as Callinicos
does, it is deeply flawed.


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