This is the foreword written by Alan Woods for Ariel Dacal and Francisco Brown Infante's book recently published in Cuba by Editorial Ciencias Sociales. Already launched in Havana, their book "Russia: from real socialism to real capitalism" is an interesting analysis of the reasons for and consequences of the fall of the USSR.
Ariel Dacal and Francisco Brown Infante's book is remarkably interesting, not only to Cuban readers, but to people at large. It covers a very wide spectrum, from the usurpation of power by the Stalinist bureaucracy after Lenin's death, through the evolution of the Soviet economy and the crisis of the bureaucratic system, the so-called perestroika, to the destruction of the Soviet Union. These are key issues of our times which must be understood if we expect to comprehend what is going on in the world.
To the enemies of socialism, the collapse of the Soviet Union is the ultimate proof that Marxism failed and socialism is impossible. They speak about the end of socialism and communism, and even the end of history itself. However, the bourgeoisie's joy following the fall of the Berlin Wall was rather premature. Events in the last ten years provide enough hard evidence that history is far from over.
Everywhere we witness the deep crisis of capitalism, characterized by wars, revolutions and counterrevolutions. This is the most unstable period since the end of World War Two.
The authors conclude that Marxism is not the culprit, for its ideas have never been more relevant than they are today. Written over 150 years ago by Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto is the most modern document available. Through plenty of quotations and evidence, Dacal and Brown Infante make it clear that what failed in the Soviet Union was neither socialism nor communism, but a bureaucratic, totalitarian caricature of the former.
We Marxists believe that the October Revolution of 1917 is the most important event in history, when for the first time - barring the short-lived, if glorious, episode of the Paris Commune - the masses succeeded in overthrowing the old slavery regime and started - at least started - the socialist transformation of society. What a great achievement!
The Russian Revolution proves that a socialist revolution is possible even in a tremendously backward country like the czarist Russia of old. Bear in mind that before 1917 there were only around four million industrial workers in that country of 150 million mostly illiterate people. In other words, czarist Russia was substantially more backward than Bolivia or Peru are today.
From being an extremely backward country to becoming the world's second power after the United States, the Soviet Union's transformation is one of the most remarkable phenomena in world history. For all the bourgeois lying, twisting and slandering to try at all costs to underrate and deny the Soviets' impressive accomplishments, this transformation, with no historical precedent, highlights the superiority of the nationalized planned economy over capitalist anarchy. In a couple of decades, the Soviet Union built a powerful industrial base which paved the way for educational, scientific and cultural progress. No less important were their breakthroughs in healthcare and medical science. World War Two revealed the Soviet Union's massive superiority in the military field. The war in Europe was reduced to a titanic struggle between the USSR and Hitler's Germany, supported by resources seized from all over Europe. Both the Americans and the British were mere spectators up to the last minute.
After the war and despite the loss of 27 million of its citizens (half the total number of casualties worldwide) and the destruction of most of its productive forces so painstakingly created by the Soviet working class, the Soviet Union managed to rebuild its economy in just a few years. In the 1950s and 1960s the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency admitted the Soviets had a definite edge in many fields, including space exploration.
According to Leon Trotsky - who, together with Vladimir Illich Lenin, masterminded the October Revolution -, socialism had proved to be superior, not in the language of dialectics, but in that of steel, cement and electric power, an incredibly important fact we must explain to the new generations to counteract the slanders and lies of a bourgeoisie intent on burying the October Revolution, just like the British ruling class did with Oliver Cromwell's memory, stifled under a pile of dead dogs.
Yet, the issue of the Soviet Union remains a contradictory one. People nowadays are entitled to ask: if there was socialism there, why did it collapse? Neither the Stalinists nor the self-professed 'friends of the Soviet Union' have an answer to this question. And actually there's none if we accept that there was a genuine socialist regime in that country. In fact, Lenin solved this problem a long time ago when he often said that what Russia had was not socialism but a regime in transition from capitalism to socialism.
Lenin stated that Russia was a workers' state ("the dictatorship of the proletariat") and, in his reply to Bukharin, he added in honesty that it was "a workers' state with bureaucratic deformations." This is not the right time to go deeper into this subject. Suffice it to say that Lenin and the Bolshevik Party were fully aware that it was impossible to establish socialism in one country, much less one as backward as Russia was then. Lenin and Trotsky never saw the October Revolution as an isolated action, a "Russian road to socialism", but as the first act of a world revolution. Lenin repeated that idea over and over again in hundreds of articles and speeches.
The defeat of the revolution in Germany and other countries threw the Russian Revolution into isolation. The rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy was the result of the isolation of the Revolution in conditions of appalling backwardness. The defeat of the Bolshevik Party's Leninist ("Trotskyist") wing and the triumph of the bureaucratic faction headed by Stalin reflected the change in the balance of class forces in Russia fuelled by the said isolation (exhaustion and disorientation of the working class, vs. increased confidence of the bureaucrats who felt themselves masters of the situation). Step by step, the bureaucracy overruled the working class and broke October's egalitarian and democratic traditions by claiming a number of privileges. Last in line was the annihilation of Lenin's party in a one-sided civil war: Stalin's notorious purges.
As the authors explain very well, A matrix of real socialism, post-Lenin Soviet socialism was never a valid, articulated, feasible choice as compared to the previous system. There was never any cultural replacement, taking into account that socialism is, above all, a project based upon a new culture, for the new society is deemed to be able to lay the foundations for a way of thinking different from the one that had prevailed in history. Therefore, the outcome was not "a socialist society (nor a capitalist one, that's true) but a new - statist, bureaucratized - form of domination and exploitation, opposed to socialism's redeeming, fair and liberating nature."
By the 1930s there was nothing left of the Bolsheviks' democratic traditions. Bureaucracy had annihilated workers' democracy. Yet they were not satisfied, for they felt unsafe, aware of the crystal-clear contradiction between the Revolution's socialist ideas and their own privileges - both legal and illegal. Marx explained long ago that the only income officials in a workers' state ought to get would be the ordinary wage of administration. The Soviet bureaucracy, and specially its highest strata, had outrageous privileges and perquisites: high wages, luxury flats, chauffeur-driven limos, special shops, and so on. They were totally estranged from the working class; far from decreasing, the gap separating their lifestyle from the workers' living conditions was on an upward trend.
Trotsky said that the bureaucracy would never be satisfied about their privileges and its members would end up becoming private capitalists instead. They could not pass on their privileges and power to their offspring. In order to assure any hereditary rights, they would have to convert state property into private property. In the end, the Russian Revolution was not defeated by external enemies but by its internal enemies, namely the pro-capitalist wing of its own bureaucracy.
Many find it shocking that the vast majority of the old Soviet Communist Party leaders became capitalists and businessmen overnight. Small wonder! Compared to this, the treason of the Second International leaders in 1914 was merely child's play. But those who still insist that there was a "real socialist" regime in the Soviet Union will have to answer the following question: if there was real socialism in the Soviet Union, if the Communist Party was really a communist party, how come the overwhelming majority of its leaders went over to capitalism from one day to the next, just as a man in a train goes from the non-smoking car to the smoker to have a drag? The real reason is provided by the authors when they remark that the collapse of the USSR was not a mere accident, like a bolt of lightning that strikes on a clear day. It was the outcome of a long process of bureaucratic degeneration which kept the Revolution away from its genuine proletarian, democratic and internationalist traditions. Those who fail to u nderstand this will never be able to answer the most essential question: why did "real socialism" fail?
In the last analysis, the bureaucracy undermined and destroyed the nationalized planned economy. Leon Trotsky said once that a nationalized planned economy needed democracy as much as the human body needs oxygen. It goes without saying that Trotsky wasn't talking about the caricature of democracy which exists in the West, where a small minority of wealthy parasites own the land, the banks and the monopolies. He was talking about the real Soviet democracy established in Russia after the victory in 1917.
In The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky warned: "The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalist relations with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture."
These words have been certified by the events of last decade. The period of transition to capitalism in Russia (the so-called "market reform") is the most horrific collapse of productive forces in history. In only six years the Russian economy fell by more than 60%, an unprecedented figure in the history of political economy. If we want to draw a historic parallel we have to search among disastrous defeats in wartime instead of looking at economic crises.
As the authors say: The distinguishing features of the first transitional period (1991-1999) were chaos, disarray, incoherent transformation, depredation of State goods, theft, concentration of the means of production in the hands of a few, political instability (constant changes of government), permanent crises between the President and the Parliament, a growing worsening of the great masses' living conditions, and an all-out struggle against any trace of the previous society.
Nevertheless, the introduction of capitalism in the Soviet Union is not the end of history. Marx said long ago that the viability of a given socioeconomic system ultimately depends on its capacity to develop productive forces. Far from representing progress, the restoration of capitalism in Russia is a terrible historical regression in every sense of the word. This fact means that Russian capitalism is reminiscent of the Russian folk tale of the chicken-legged cabin.
President Vladimir Putin's apparent stability is an illusion triggered by a favorable economic climate (high oil prices) and the working class's temporary inertia. Inasmuch as there's not a truly Marxist-Leninist party capable of offering a revolutionary alternative, the Russian workers lower their heads and hope for better times. It's therefore an unstable balance bound to be broken when least expected.
By blindly following the "free market logic", the government expects to succeed in progressively eliminating every social achievement of times past, which will unavoidably lead to social explosions. In the last few weeks we have witnessed huge demonstrations of Russian pensioners protesting against an unjust law aimed at cutting their already meager pensions. It's a warning of what's brewing under the surface.
A counteroffensive by the masses is inevitable. It would happen sooner and in a more organized, effective way should the Communist Party struggle under the banner of October and take Lenin's ideals as their foundation. Yet, with or without a proper leadership, the masses will fight, and sooner or later will rediscover Bolshevism's authentic traditions, the revolutionary ideas of Lenin and Trotsky.
What has happened in Russia contains obvious lessons for the Cuban people. Following the demise of the USSR, the world has come under the dominance of a superpower unparalleled in history, but this superpower is a colossus with feet of clay. For all its immense military power and massive wealth reserves, U.S. imperialism is bogged down in Iraq. Its criminal occupation of that country is costing at least a billion dollars a week, not to mention an increasing number of casualties in both sides.
U.S. imperialism is striving to destroy the Cuban Revolution because its existence is a serious threat to their interests in Latin America. For that same reason, they want to destroy the Venezuelan Revolution. But Washington's strategists are fully aware that right now they can't think of a military intervention - at least not a direct one. They are forced to use other methods.
The threat of counterrevolution in Cuba is real, but the greatest danger comes not from outside pressure, but from internal contradictions. The Russian example shows that the greatest danger lies in sectors of the state apparatus itself who want the restoration of capitalism, specially amongst those who have direct contact with foreign capital.
In a more or less concealed way, these sectors harbor ambitions to become the owners of productive forces; that's the greatest danger.
Still, the pro-bourgeois elements clash with a very big obstacle in the person of Fidel Castro, who utterly opposes capitalism and constantly relies on the masses to stand as a bulwark against the counterrevolutionary tendencies.
To protect the Cuban Revolution it's absolutely necessary to gather the revolutionary forces in an anti-capitalist common front within which all communist trends can freely discuss their various ideas and programs as they fight shoulder to shoulder to defend the achievements of the Revolution against bourgeois elements.
We have to fight bureaucracy and corruption as the grounds where pro-bourgeois tendencies can take root and blossom. We have to strengthen the proletarian avant-garde and trust the masses' revolutionary instincts. Bureaucracy can't be fought with bureaucratic methods.
All over the world, the Cuban Revolution has been a tremendous source of inspiration to both youth and the working class. Defending the Cuban Revolution is an elementary duty to any conscious worker or youth. We have to mobilize public opinion worldwide to counteract imperialism's scandalous attempts to intimidate, isolate and suffocate the Revolution.
Isolation is the key problem facing the Cuban Revolution. Its fate depends ultimately on the spreading of revolution to the rest of the world, starting with Latin America. The Venezuelan Revolution's outstanding accomplishments represent a beacon of hope, and as it grows stronger and becomes a socialist revolution will find an echo all through the continent. Che Guevara's perspective of an international revolution would then be within reach.
Despite everything, the collapse of the Soviet Union has not brought about the disappearance of socialism, which is now more necessary than ever before. Capitalism - that corrupt, unfair and obsolete system - can only offer mankind a future of wars, poverty, hunger and degradation. The Cuban Revolution - like the October Revolution - marked the beginning of a new prospect for mankind: a world of harmony, fraternity and liberty under socialism. This is still our prospect and banner, and the only cause worth fighting and dying for in the first decade of the 21st century.
The American philosopher George Santayana once wrote: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." This book is an attempt to give the new generation some of contemporary history's most important lessons. It deserves to be read by as many people as possible. After all, we don't want to repeat history, but make it again.
London, March 4, 2005
Spanish version of the Preface:
The USSR: The Thwarted Transition By Ariel Dacal Diaz
This is a CubaNews translation, edited by Jordi Martorell and Walter Lippmann.
Original Spanish language title:
Rusia desde socialismo real al capitalismo real,
por Ariel Dacal Diaz y Francisco Brown Infante
Editorial Sciencas Sociales (La Habana, 2005)
ISBN 959-06-0735-7, 399 pages