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The failure of the USSR in the light of Scientific Socialism

Sidney J Gluck

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.

The objective of this exercise is to establish a theoretical base from the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, the founders of Scientific Socialism, as premises for judging the practice of Marxism in the establishment of the USSR and its continuity to determine whether the interpretations of historic change and development as they projected were in consonance with their concepts and methodological interpretations.

I. Basic precepts and their sources

  1. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels at the outset established a historical materialist presence that a class in power (the capitalist class in this instance) posed legitimate sway so long as it contributes to the development of the Forces of Production and loses its legitimacy when systemic contradictions stand in the way of progress.

  2. Significantly, the opening of Marx' seminal work on Capital presents the historic process of the development of commodity production and market exchange from its beginning through the development of socialized production, division of labor and the commodification of labor power as the basic mode of capitalist production and the nature of money and credit in this process -- all elements necessary in socialized production and distribution.

  3. Marx never spelled out specifics in the societal structure of communism; but he did express his vision of the historic movements and changes that would have to take place to reach a goal in which the interest of the working class would be realized through the highest level of productivity and technological inventiveness that would make possible a society which moves from labor time as the source of value to new possibilities which include not only the labor time but leisure time and other human needs for all under the slogan, "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need [1]." He also discusses the lower form of communism (socialism) as a transitional period in which the state in control of the development of the Forces of Production [2a][2b] utilizes all available human and individual inputs including a carry-over of bourgeois right (private ownership) implying some forms of mixed ownership economies moving towards the ultimate absorption and elimination of the need for private ownership and ultimately establishing the higher level of public and social ownership. During this early transitional period, he projects the slogan "from each according to their ability, to each according to their contribution to social product." Note two historical implications, first, that in both instances there is a basic inequality of distribution -- in the early period, share in the social product according to individual contribution, which varies, and in the second instance, share according to individual need, which also varies. Hence, there is consideration for the specific role of individuals as individuals of varied capabilities and propensities for initiative, which is to be encouraged for the ultimate social benefit.

  4. Historical and dialectical materialism establishes the premise of stages of development which are analyzed from a dialectical point of view to determine elements of change. The strategy and tactics of Lenin's practice in which tactical lines were changed according to the ebb and flow of class struggle to achieve a given strategic aim which, when achieved posits a need for new tactics for achievable further stages. (Too often, though one cannot fault Marx, in the ebb and flow of the class struggle there is no guarantee that a qualitative change will be a forward movement in history where for reasons of quantitative balance retrogression is possible.) Water can become steam or ice depending upon general conditions. The negation of the negation does not always introduce new relations.

  5. Engels' description of inherent contradictions in the capitalist system and its tendency towards economic boom and bust cycles (though to some extent, mitigated but not eliminated in late capitalism) reveals the ultimate Achilles heel as the system in individual countries and the world capitalist system reach points of stagnation and ultimate systemic political crisis, always throwing the burden onto the backs of the working people. Furthermore, he indicated principles of centrally planned economic structures which would avoid imbalances in production and distribution and frustrate social development.

  6. Again, Lenin's ability to shift strategy and tactics in the struggle to gain state power and then to advocate an end to war communism (which in a sense was dictatorial) to democratic participatory forms (1921 to the youth). He then proposed to the politbureau a new economic policy inviting private capital to invest -- and gain -- in the building of a new economy that would be mixed forms of ownership leaving open for the moment the methods of collective agricultural restructuring and possible compromises with the land owners (kulaks). Unfortunately, he died in 1924 and the structuring of the USSR economy was left in Stalin's hands, though Lenin had warned about Stalin's dictatorial character (in a letter intercepted by Stalin's secretary that never reached the bureau). He also projected that the day would arrive as world economic integration proceeded when the capitalist world would turn to the socialist world for mutual economic benefit.

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Note 1: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (or needs)" is a slogan popularised by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. For details, visit http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1875/gotha/index.htm or see Wikipedia

Note 2a: Productive forces, "productive powers" or "forces of production" (in German, Produktivkräfte) is a central idea in Marxism and historical materialism.

Note 2b: In fact, there are similarities between Marx and Engels concept and that of Adam Smith's "productive powers of labour", see Chapter 8 of "The Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith at http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/adam-smith/Wealth-Nations.pdf (or download the PDF backup (2.13MB)) or see Wikipedia