Back in the Ussr

uzbek-cotton.gifThe video from the BBC shown on Newsnight yesterday of children in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan working in the fields picking cotton was incredibly shocking. You can watch it here.

Secretly filming, the BBC reporters showed the schools closed for the duration of the harvest, and the police herding children as young as nine years old onto buses. The video shows Lorry loads of mattresses being taken to the farms, as the children are expected to sleep in the fields after  working for hours in the baking sun. The cotton picked by forced child labour then appears in clothes sold in ASDA and Primark in the UK.

The film also showed film of the mechanised cotton harvest in the days when Uzbekistan used to be part of the USSR. Contrast the picture here from the Uzbek cotton harvest in 1977 with the BBC film of children picking the cotton by hand today.

Tony Cliff always used to criticise those who fell for the lie that the Soviet economy was intrinsically more backwards than the West by pointing out the implicit chauvinism of those who compared Russia with Germany in terms of living standards, but did not compare Uzbekistan with Pakistan.

In the days of the USSR, Soviet republics of Central Asia had higher living standards than other countries in the region.

Many socialists in the West still do not appreciate what a disaster the collapse of the Soviet Union has been.

Using as sources those well known apologists for Stalinism, Unicef, the World Bank and the BBC, we find that the world bank reported in 2000 that in the USSR overall incomes have dropped by 50%. In some regions, such as the Caucasus and central Asia, over half the population now live in absolute poverty – defined as living on an income of $2 per day or less.

Unicef report 18 million children on less than $2 per day, 60 million children in poverty.

Unicef reports; “In Central Asian countries less than half of 15-to-18-year-olds now attend secondary school. Ten years ago more than two-thirds attended. ” There were also at least one million displaced as refugess by war within the borders of the former USSR.

russian-poverty.jpgWorld bank: “Since the poverty levels peaked in 1999 at 41.5%, poverty was cut in half by 2002 to 19.6%. About 30 million people have improved their financial standing, however the number of people in poverty is still high – every fifth Russian lives well below the official poverty line. According to the World Bank, the most vulnerable group was the rural population. About 30.4% of the rural population lives in poverty, while 15.7% of the urban population is poor. Children under 16 have a higher incidence of poverty, about 25%. According to the report, the North Caucasus, South Siberia and parts of Central Russia are the poorest regions in Russia.”

Alexandra Ochirova, the chairperson of the Chamber’s committee (A Kremlin initiated committee) on social development said 20 million Russians live below the subsistence level, and this accounts for 15 or more percent the population. More specifically, one Russian in seven cannot meet even his or her basic demands for food and clothing.

“Poverty in Russia is very special for the fact it embraces not only separate sections of the able-bodied population, but more importantly, the ones who have employment,” Ochirova said. “These are mostly workers on government payroll, as well as children aged younger than 16 years old, the disabled and pensioners,” she said. But the most dangerous type of impoverishment is poverty among single mothers. “It’s neediness reproducing neediness,” Ochirova said. A gap in population’s earnings remains huge, too, as the incomes of 80% population decrease all the time while those of the remaining 20% continue growing”

“Russia is a unique country where poverty strikes the working population,” says Mikhail Shmakov, the president of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions. “Poverty is multiplying since the government, the country’s biggest employer, curbs a growth of wages,”

In a report to US Congress on economic state of Russia; “In January 2005, the Russian government monetized many previously in-kind social benefits for retirees, military personnel, and state employees. The cash payments, however, only partly compensated for the lost benefits. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia experienced widespread economic dislocation and a drop of close to 50% in GDP. Conditions worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s in the United States impoverished much of the population, some 15% of which is still living below the government’s official (very low) poverty level. Russia is also plagued by environmental degradation and ecological catastrophes of staggering proportions; the near-collapse of the health system; sharp declines in life expectancy and the birth rate; and widespread organized crime and corruption. The population has fallen by over 5 million in the past decade, despite net in-migration of 5 million from other former Soviet republics.”

Another interesting source is the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration: “Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, that country’s economic and social system worked in a practical sense — meaning most people had a place to live and food to eat. Although standards of living were below those in the West, particularly in housing, daily life was predictable. The Soviet leadership was legitimately able to say that their form of socialism had succeeded in virtually eliminating the kind of poverty that existed in Czarist Russia. Russian citizens now live in different times. The country’s transformation to a more open economic system has created, temporarily at least, a large, new group of people in poverty.”

A recent TV series followed 21 year olds from the former USSR (you know one of those progs that follow people every 7 years) and it was heartbreaking. Whole towns that previously had viable industries now at a subsistence level. There was an interesting report recently on the BBC about how there has been a disastrous collapse of bio-diversity in Siberia, as in eastern Russia people have had to return to hunting for basic subsistence.

In the former DDR, comprehenisve education lost, rent controlled apartments lost, full employment lost. abortion rights reduced, full employment lost. Former citizens of the DDR discriminated against as their academic qualifications not recognised, paid lower wages than Wessies, etc. Yugoslavia has been consumed by ethnic conflict.

Even if we take one of the economic success stories, Lithuania, we find that country is the biggest source of women traded as slaves into prostitution, according to the International labour organisation. Hungary has become a centre for exploitation sex tourism.

When some comrades talk about the restoration of capitalism in the former Comecon countries as just a “step sideways”, perhaps they should look at the real consequences?

50 comments on “Back in the Ussr

  1. There’s no crime or prostitution in Saudi Arabia. Maybe Andy should take his family to live over there.

  2. Martin, the point is, Germany had lower unemployment under the Nazis than they do today. Maybe Andy thinks ending fascism was a step backwards?

    Why is it people who use the capitalist created internet and their western free speech rights, to argue that others would be better off if they didn’t have the same rights as they enjoy?

  3. Most of the central Asian countries suffer because they don’t have proper democracy, not because they ended communism. They still have closed economies to a large degree too.

  4. In fact Gavin nazi Germany saw a disastrous decline in working class living standards, a fall in real wages and increase in wealth inequality.

    And you are arguing against a complete straw man, as I have not complained about an extension of free speech and democracy, only about the effect of dismantling the semi-planned economy, and opening up to the market.

    There is – as you well know – no causal connection in the modern world between democracy and ecomonic prosperity.

  5. Marcus

    Quite apart from the the fact I have been arguing the same thing for years, do you really think that my politica are motivated by sucking up to the MOrning Star?

    Grow up.

  6. At what point did Andy abandon the theory of state capitalism? Cliff pointed out there is all the difference in the world between the direct producers planning production for people’s needs, on the one hand, and the planned exploitation of the working class, on the other. As for full employment in the USSR, the joke among East European workers under Stalinism was “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.” In the absence of trade unions independent of the state, workers were, for the most part, forced into individual acts of sabotage, including simply wasting as much time as they could.

  7. There’s an excellent in-depth piece on the 21st Century Socialism website on the Soviet model and the eeconomic cold war.

    And another eye witness reportage from Moldova.

    On Uzbekistan, Andy is spot on. I have a friend from Uzbekistan who now lives in London. She is middle class and doing pretty well over here, so you could say she is one of the winners from the defeat of the USSR. She is not a socialist in any way, shape or form.


    She describes the situation in Uzbekistan as being a thousand times worse than during the Soviet era, judged on any critera: unemployment, education, living standards, ethnic conflicts, human rights, freedom of speech. The personal stories she tells are heartbreaking.

    Remember, this is not a woman who has ever been pro-communist or pro-Soviet. If anything, the reverse; she expresses general anti-Russian sentiment. When even people like her are saying that the defeat of the USSR was a catastrophe, the dumbed-down British ultra-left should really sit up and listen.

  8. Andy wrote: “In the former DDR, comprehenisve education lost, rent controlled apartments lost, full employment lost. abortion rights reduced, full employment lost. Former citizens of the DDR discriminated against as their academic qualifications not recognised, paid lower wages than Wessies, etc. Yugoslavia has been consumed by ethnic conflict.”

    Several points. Firstly, I have already referred to the pointlessness of the Stalinist stats on unemployment. By forcing people to work for benefits, and vastly slashing wages, the Nazis also managed to eliminate unemployment. Secondly, this success of Stalinism may or not be as good as you think, but did you have to refer to it twice? Thirdly, you seem to denounce the loss of abortion rights in East Germany, while backing Respect’s only MP trying to further curtail British women’s abortion rights. Why is that exactly? Fourthly, Yugoslavia was consummed by ethnic tensions that tore it apart. But Galloway’s primary base in Respect adopt a similar approach. They bring to the fore ethnicity and religion, not working class politics.

  9. Tom – I don’t exactly know what you problem is, but you seem unable to communicate on a rational basis.

    I am sorry that the disastrous collapase of living standards in the USSR is inconvenient for your intellectucal schema of how the USSR used to work. Your plan sees to be to deny that there has been a disaster and hide behind the fact that the better conditions in the past were all propaganda.

  10. Good lord, Andy’s implicitly criticising capitalism and promoting socialism! Egad! Exterminate him, before the disease spreads!

    More seriously, it is unsurprising that the “Stans” have lower living standards now than they had under the USSR thumb. The USSR hugely subsidised them; no subsidy now, hence kids picking cotton ‘cos there’s no money for cultivators. Also, as in Russia, crooks took over (often the same crooks who ran things under the USSR, but without even minimal restraints) and pillaged everything, but in the “Stans” there was less to pillage, so they suffered more proportionally.

  11. Just to repsond briefly to gavin’s earlier point that poverty in the Central Asian republics is becasue they are undemocratic centralised economies, in fact Uzbekistan is the relatively rich exception! And becasue it is the economy in the region that has least opened itself to the market.

    Gavin wrote #6 : ” Most of the central Asian countries suffer because they don’t have proper democracy, not because they ended communism. They still have closed economies to a large degree too.”

    Nearly all these economies have “liberalised” by following World bank guidelines to open to the free market, with disastrous results: According to research by a Turkish newspaper

    Armenia’s annual GDP per capita is a miserly $670. More than half the population is below the poverty line. These dismal results are despite seven years of strong growth pegged at 6 percent annually and remittances from abroad which equal a staggering one eighth of GDP. Armenia is the second most prosperous of the lot. Its inflation is down to two digits. Its currency is stable. Its trade is completely liberalized (a-propos Zhang’s nostrums).

    Azerbaijan, its foe and neighbor, should be so lucky. Close to nine tenth of its population live as paupers. This despite a tripling of oil prices, its mainstay commodity. The World Bank notes wistfully that its agriculture is picking up. Its oil fund, insist the sponsoring institutions, incredibly, is “governed by transparent and prudent management rules”.

    Georgia flies in the face of the Washington Consensus. Petrified by a meltdown of its economy in the early 1990s, a surging inflation and $1 billion in external debt – it adhered religiously to the IMF’s prescriptions and proscriptions. To no avail. Annual GDP growth collapsed from 10 percent in 1996-7 to less than 3 percent thereafter.

    The Kyrgyz Republic is a special case even by the dismal standards of the region. Again, nine tenths of its population live on less than $130 (one half on less than $70) monthly. Poverty actually increased in the last few years when economic growth picked up. At $310, the country’s GDP per capita is sub-Saharan. Is this appalling performance the outcome of brazen disregard for the IMF’s sagacious counsel?

    Not so. according to the CIS-7 Web site “the Kyrgyz Republic is currently the most reformed country of the Central Asia and sustains a very liberal economic regime.” The Kyrgyz predicament defies years of robust growth, single digit inflation, a surplus in the trade balance and other oft-rehashed IMF benchmarks. That the patient is as sick as ever casts in doubt the doctors’ competence.

    Moldova – with $420 in GDP per capita and 85 percent of the population under the line of poverty – is only in marginally better shape, mainly due to the swift recovery of its principal export market, Russia.

    The best economic performance of the lot was Uzbekistan’s. It is often wheeled out as a success story and used as a fig leaf. Uzbekistan’s GDP is, indeed, unchanged compared to 1989. GDP per capita is $450 – but only one third of the population are under – the famine-level – national poverty line.

    But a closer scrutiny reveals the – customary – prestidigitation by the proponents of the Washington orthodoxy.

    With the exception of Belarus, another relative economic success story, Uzbekistan resisted the IMF’s bitter medicine longer than any other country in transition. Its accomplishments cannot be attributed by any mental gymnastics to anything the west has done, or said. The CIS-7 Web site describes this contrarian polity thus:

    “Today significant distortions in foreign exchange allocation remain, reflected in a large difference between the official and curb market exchange rates (about 60% in mid-2002). The current economic system retains the key features of soviet economy, with the state owning and exercising quite active control over the production and distribution decisions of a significant number of Uzbek enterprises.”

    Thanks to John Angliss’s blog for raising this.

  12. I remember meeting Zuzanna Dabrowska, a Polish socialist who the Socialist Movement hosted over here; this would have been around 1990. In the pub somebody mentioned attacks on maternity rights in the UK. Yes, Zuzanna said, it’s the same with us since Solidarity came in – under Communism women got two years’ maternity leave, but they’re going to cut it to one year.

    Actually-existing socialism “not all bad” shock.

  13. Simon B on said:

    “Many socialists in the West still do not appreciate what a disaster the collapse of the Soviet Union has been.”

    Amazing isn’t it that people ‘still’ don’t appreciate that.
    Maybe it had something to do with it having being brutally repressive, having murdered millions of its own and other people, created an empire across half of Europe, destroyed all culture, having no freedom of speech, freedom of assocition, freedom of the press etc. etc. etc.

  14. The fact that life is much harder than twenty years ago for tens of millions of Russian workers doesn not mean that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a disaster. The causes of the collapse were present in the stalinist system. Abandon the idea of world revolution, compete with the capitalists on their own terms, make millions work too hard and often die so as to pay for an arms industry far too big for the economy, including nuclear arms. And at the end collapse because in the cutthroat capitalist competition, capitalist methods cannot win for workers.

    Politically it’s an excellent thing that the Soviet Union collapsed because it allows us to have that bit more space to say “there was zero percent socialism in the stalinist system once it was stabilized”. It’s a long patient argument with workers, but it means it is possible to say “socialism is something else”, and that gives socialism a future.

  15. I was quite shocked when I moved to Britain to learn that there are so called socialists who think that the fall of the USSR was “a step sideways” or even, a positive development. I frankly have no time for such tripe. Where I come from, the notion that 1991 was anything other than a disaster of titanic proportions would be thoroughly ridiculed and scorned by even the most first-worldist Trot.

  16. Although I do think that the comrades in the North Korean bureaucracy light up mankind’s path to communism, I’m finding it hard to reconcile this idea with Marxism.

    “An enforced rise in wages (disregarding all other difficulties, including the fact that such an anomalous situation could only be prolonged by force) would be nothing more than better pay for slaves and would not mean an increase in human significance or dignity for either the worker or the labour.”

    “Even the equality of wages, which Proudhon demands, would merely transform the relation of the present-day worker to his work into the relation of all men to work. Society would then be conceived as an abstract capitalist.”
    (Paris Manuscripts)

    Of course, to use this Marx quote is disingenuous. I know as well as the next person that Stalinist countries had/have colossal income inequality.

    Andy – the idea of the “step sideways” is surely that in neither East nor West did workers have any control over society, with no free unions/press/workers’ councils by which to rule. To talk in terms of wage rates and state ownership completely misses the issue – how do we combat alienation, hierarchy, oppressive ideologies?

    With purges, labour fronts and never-ending “speed-ups”? Re-education in the camps?

    As a Trotskyist, or, as Andy would have it, a “Trotskyite”, I don’t see the need to pick a favourite between the USSR and the Uzbek bourgeoisie… Both are fundamentally anti working-class.

  17. bill j on said:

    Andy is absolutely right about the effects of the collapse of the USSR on workers living standards with the restoration of captialism – these are after all facts – it mystifies me how people can deny facts in order to defend an ideological position – usually state capitalism.
    Surely if a theory doesn’t fit the facts its necessary to change the theory – not the facts.
    I might prefer to describe an oncoming juggernaut as a toy car, but when it rolls over me, my description will not alter the result – splat.
    And of course the reason this is especially significant today, is that the opening up of these economies has allowed capitalism to escape its stagnation of the 1970s/80s.
    Its not accident that the same people who deny the economic effects of restoration (notwithstanding allegedly different views on the class nature of the USSR) also want to assert that we remain in the same period as then i.e. SWP, Workers Power, Socialist Party etc.

  18. I don’t see how any socialist can see evidence of the collapse of working class livig standards into sub-subsistence barbarism, and the consequent rise of crime, desperation and fascism (70000 fascist skin heads in Russia alone), and say as Chris does that “politically this is a good thing”

  19. #23

    David Broder and the AWL have a funny idea abiout what being a Trotskyists means. Of course it menas taking the side of thr USSR’s bereaucracy against the capitalists.

    Saying: “I don’t see the need to pick a favourite between the USSR and the Uzbek bourgeoisie… Both are fundamentally anti working-class.”

    Is like saying: “I don’t see the need to pick a favourite between TESCO and USDAW… Both are fundamentally anti working-class.”

  20. Sean Springett on said:

    Great article Andy.

    To respond to Bill J. from PR: Workers Power does accept, like PR, that the collapse of the Degenerate/d workers states had a positive effect on capitalism and did, along with other factors, offset the tendency of the rate of profit to decline. However we believe that this has now, mainly, come to an end and the credit crunch we are seeing is a sign of the continuation of capitalist crisis (although it might not lead to recession) – something that I believe PR predicted would not happen until 2015. It seems to me PR is being thoroughly un-marxist in seeming to say that the offsetting factors can be as strong as the tendency on a permanent basis (although I’m not sure if you’ve said the explicitly, it seems very much like PR is arguing this).

    I’m sure I can agree with Bill J. in recommending that readers of the blog take the time to read The Degenerated Revolution published decades ago by Workers Power. It’s available on as a PDF download. This pamphlet/book explains the material basis of the Stalinist caste, what is wrong with the state capitalism theory, what happened in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, and the material basis for some of the gains of the working class, but also why the Stalinists removed some (for women and other oppressed groups).

  21. Sean Springett on said:

    What Andy said here: ‘Is like saying: “I don’t see the need to pick a favourite between TESCO and USDAW… Both are fundamentally anti working-class.”’

    Is exactly true.

    Union bureaucracies are castes, just like the USSR’s bureaucracy. Union leaders are labour aristocrats who’s priviledge depends on taking a middle ground between capitalism and workers, as was the Stalinists. Trotsky (I think) had an analogy of the Stalinists as resting on a pin point – they’d one day fall off either in a workers revolution or into capitalism. He was proved correct, and as they spiralled off working class power could have been developed. Several comrades in WP (and probably a few from what now is PR, as well as Sparts and others) were in Russia and degenerate workers states doing what they could to help organise the working class into bodies that could do this. Sadly we failed.

  22. Simon B on said:

    I’m ex-AWL, but they are far too mealy-mouthed about Stalinism with it being parallel to capitalism etc.

    USDAW is not the Soviet Union to Tesco’s USA and it is a ludicrous comparison(I already know what the rationale is for the comparison by the way and have heard it a million times before).

    Given all we know about the crimes committed by the Stalinists over the years I think there is something sick about anyone defending the USSR.

    State property is not necessarily progressive, it depends who owns the state. In the case of the USSR it was a small all-powerful clique.

    You can look at unemployment figures and living standards all you want, but it doesn’t negate the horrific reality of Stalinism. I’d rather starve than be a well-fed ant.

    Bourgeois democracy is infintely superior to Stalinism, not equal or parallel, it kicks its arse.
    If this make me a criminal against the name of Trotsky then fine. I really couldn’t give a shit.

  23. Simon B on said:

    Oh and in the meantime Sean Springett has provided the usual absurd rationale.
    Of course the difference is that USDAW is an organisaton of workers with a bureaucratic leadership, whereas the Soviet Union was a brutal exploitative society and the working class was absolutely alienated from the state and in no sense ‘owned’ it whatsoever.

    By the end of WW2 the idea that the USSR was any kind of ‘workers’ state’ or ‘progressive’, owes more to a religious fundamentalist reading of Trotsky than analysing the reality on the ground.

  24. thanks andy for drawing attention to this piece on newsnight.

    the collapse in gdp and living standards that came with the fall of the ussr and the bureauratic planned economy are unparelleled (apart from the effects of world wars i should say). this is just a fact backed up by empiric evidence.

    socialists oppose privatisation of publically owned industries and services, even though they are bureacratically run. so therefore they should oppose the destruction of the planned economy in the ussr/estern europre/china etc. even though these are bureaucratically run.

    the former ussr is not democratic at all now – as most people can see. however, in some of the countries there is more possibility to organise free trade unions but not without state repression. nonethless, the decline in living standards and population, as well as the idiological attacks on ‘socialism’, rise in nationalism, neo-nazism etc. make it very difficult, to say the least, for free trade unions as well as socialist (or any oppositional) political groups to operate and build support.

    the fact that anyone on the left still thinks the destruction of the planned economy was a good thing in beyond belief. maybe the swp should go on a fact finding mission to the former ussr and meet people with aids, victims of neo-nazi assaults and pensioners who live on under 1$ a day so they can all “rejoice at the collapse of communism” together.

    socialist greetings,

    karl s

  25. bill j on said:

    Well Sean cobblers frankly.
    (Sorry for other readers, but this is a bit of a domestic dispute.)
    Just a month or so ago, Richard was predicting (as he does every couple of months or so) a capitalist crisis.
    It is of course deeply paradoxical that growth in the USA actually accelerated in the last quarter (figures released today 3.9%, when every commentator on the left – barring PR – said capitalism was about to collapse or had entered a new period of crisis or somesuch.)
    I’d be interested if you could point us to any economic analysis you’ve undertaken to demonstrate your assertion that the recovery in profit rates has come to an end?
    That is of course a rhetorical question – you haven’t done any have you?
    In fact the only member of yours who ever did any work on the question Keith S essentially repeated my results – although of course he deliberately (as he admitted) left off the more recent years of high profit growth as they refuted his claims of capitalist crisis.
    As for this prediction I am alleged to have made that there would be no recession until 2015 – unfortunately, that’s not true either. This refered to the possible duration of the upward long wave – i.e. the period of capitalist expansion – a period which can of course include recessions, just as the long boom after WWII did. In fact its now looking like 2015 was a little conservative – it may well be long than that.
    I must however reiterate – as this will be misrepresented otherwise – that I do expect this business cycle (for what my opinions worth – not much you may say) to end around 2010, if recent history is anything to go by.
    Although it is worth pointing out, there have been fewer recessions under the period of globalisation so far, than in the post war boom.
    It seems to me that the LFI are not at all Marxist in making stuff up about the world economy that isn’t true, (see Richard’s claims about the IMF/OECD etc.) and attributing arguments to the opponents that they don’t make and have never made. But there you go.
    I have to say however, that thus far PRs analysis of world capitalism, is standing up really well, faced with the repeated assertions of imminent recession, crisis and stagnation produced by the likes of the LFI.

  26. bill j on said:

    In fact what I wrote was this (for anyone that’s interested);

    “The third phase will see even faster growth, a consolidation of the previous tendencies and the introduction of new technologies to support them, China and India become real imperialist powers. The regionalisation of the world starts to impinge on the ability for global production to operate effectively, the technical basis for the long upward wave is exhausted a new downward wave begins. This is roughly ten years off. (This of course assumes that no political crisis brings the upward wave to a halt sooner – something which is always possible, but less likely in an upward phase of the world economy.)”

    Hardly the assertion that there will be a continuous period of untrammelled capitalist growth without crisis that Sean dishonestly claims.

  27. bill j on said:

    And just to ram the point home here is a quote of an article on PR’s website at the moment, which polemicises against the catastrophism of the SP (same difference as WP);

    “The OECD provide a far more measured assessment than the SP, pointing to the contradictory offsetting factors in the current situation and particularly the ample, albeit declining profit margins. If there is a recession, officially two consecutive quarters of negative growth, it has to be put into historical context. Will it be shallow and short, relatively quickly reversed, or deep and lasting many months, ushering in a genuine period of capitalist crisis? The SP, not surprisingly, think the latter. Just as always.

    But recent history suggests otherwise, the US recession of 2001 was shallow and lasted 8 months, very different to the recession of 1980-81 that lasted 16 months and came hard on the heels of three recessions over the previous decade. Conversely, despite popular impression, there were four shallow, recessions in the US between 1948 and 1961 (NBER data).

    This demonstrates how the general period of the world economy decisively shapes the depth and duration of slow downs and recessions. In a period of a rising upward wave, such as the post war long boom, or this period of globalisation, the business cycle continues, capitalist instability remains, but recessions are short lived and shallow. In a period of a down ward wave, such as the 1970s/80s recessions are long and deep.”

    And I’ll stop now and do apologise for going on.

  28. Sean Springett on said:

    Bill J: As you said I am no economist, and this would probably be better left to a discussion between yourself and Keith S. However I would like to ask a friendly question of why Keith H hasn’t done much of the economic analysis in PR, when looking back previously he seemed to do a lot? Is it just time constraints?

  29. RedRaph on said:

    Does this mean that state capitalism is the highest form of capitalsim. Of course all that space we have now that Stalinism is toppled. An expanding world economy with a third of the world it has fresh access to on a long wave of expansion,nobody to stand (even if it was reluctantly) behind the anti-imperialist movements. Democracy is great in the USSR and what about China where we have a stalinist capitalit dictarship. And has nobody had the slander that socilaism = the soviet bloc since the restoraion capitalism. Trotsky and MANDEL’S analysis remains the best at explaining the contradictary nature of the Soviet Union at All. The restoration of capitalism was a massive defeat to the working class and anti-imperialist movements. The bureacratic behaviour of many left quassi Trotskyist sects only backs up those who argue stalinism = socialism.

  30. No I think that is pretty much standard AWL / Schactmanite attitude to the USSR

    I wonder what someone from Mozambique would have to say about that.

  31. Graham Day on said:

    I would echo Karl, #31, thanks Andy for highlighting this, I’d have missed it otherwise.

    I’m not too sure on how people think you can plan without a “bureaucracy” of some type. In terms of “who controlled the bureaucracy”, then that was clearly the CPSU, a party which was open to (pretty much) everyone for membership.

    Apropos of nothing, I recently read a quote from Roy Medvedev (no “Stalinist”):”Stalin found the Soviet Union in ruins, and left it a superpower, Gorbachev inherited a superpower and left it in ruins”. Whatever the faults of the USSR, we would all be wearing brown shirts and Heiling without it.

    And I’m also sure its citizens had more control over their own lives than they do now that its gone.

  32. Graham Day on said:

    I should have added: what are the key tasks we in Britain should be doing to “build solidarity” with the people in the former socialist states?

    First point, I think, is to be informed as to the material differences between “then” and “now”.

    Second point, is to campaign on the Uzbek child labour issue.

    Third point, is to show solidarity with anti-fascists in Russia:

  33. Graham Day on said:

    Great. I’m new to this blog, so I hadn’t seen it.

    Though I note the “normal” lack of response to straightforward real-world issues in the earlier post, as opposed to those that offer the opportunity for endless hair-splitting “theoretical” “debate”…

  34. Partly from idle curiosity, and partly to lift our minds above matters in other threads – Andy, what was it that persuaded you to ditch the theory of state capitalism? (‘There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance.’)

    But to be fair to the sinners, the SWP does recognise and describe (e.g. in the latest IS) the collapse of production and living standards in the former SU. The ‘step sideways’ is (as far as I can make out) that they argue that the same class is still in power, i.e. the former bureaucrats have become the new capitalists.

  35. Ken

    In brief answer to your question. This is not a fully developed positioon, just some indicators to my thinking.

    I always had my lingering doubts about the state cap position, which caused me to make more of a study of it over the years.

    My areas of concern were concerned with the operation of the law of values, and the fact that labour power was not actually sold as a commodity.

    The other area of concern was the transition period where Cliff claimed the USSR became state capitalist. This seemed under-theorised, and a big hole in the argument.

    Neverthless, I broadly held to the theory on the level of its persuasive insight that the USSR’s bureaucracy did in fact have an external competitive pressure on it in the form of military competition, and this insight of Cliff’s did help to explain some of what happened – and this factor was underrepresented in for example Mandel’s account. But an insight does not make a theory.

    What caused me to break more decisively was

    i) the break down of the former USSR’s economy, which seemed to confirm my earlier concern that labour power had not in act been sold as a commodity, and consumer goods were planned rather than produced for the market.
    ii) A reassessment on my part of the broadly progressive nature of the USSR’s foreign policy, which was easier to see once it was gone.
    iii) The survival of Cuba – and the absence in Cuba’s case of the military competition that for Cliff provide the driving imperative of the USSR’s economy
    iv) Venezuela, which indicates to me that a socialist government could rule over an economy transiational between capitalism and socialism – in the case of Venezuela still mainly capitalist. But if the Venezuelans government are socialist, then why not the Cuban government?

  36. Is that you coming out as a tankie?

    Really, the Left needs to get over this distasteful affection for the former Soviet Union.

    In South Africa, the post-apartheid unemployment rate has skyrocketed: during the boom years of apartheid, we had 12% umemployment, which grew due to disinvestment to 26% in 1994.

    It currently stands at 41% (a figure the government disputes, as it refuses to count people not actively looking for work, and therefore excludes much of the underclass).

    This is because of neo-liberalism introduced by the ANC, with the removal of tariff barriers, privatisation of state services and so on. Under the ANC, black people who were provided with water by the apartheid government are getting it cut off, and even the union federation COSATU has said that materially workers were better off under apartheid.

    So, Andy, can we expect from yourself the assertion that the collapse of apartheid was a disaster?

    There was nothing progressive about the USSR. It was a dictatorship, like South Africa and a lot of other countries today. Just because it could feed its citizens is not a reason to mourn its passing.

    Instead of your misplaced nostalgia for a murderous regime, let’s look at how we can help people there to get organised.

  37. bill j on said:

    But its not nostalgia its science. The reason that the collapse of the USSR was different is because the USSR was not capitalist – i.e. its economy (as Cliff concedes in his book State Capitalism in Russia) was not one of generalised commodity production.
    So for example, when capitalism was restored trade from the former USSR nations quadrupled in the 1990s, but their output halved. So the proportion of trade to output increased eight fold – why? Obviously because they were now producing things for sale on a market.
    The effects of the collapse of the plan, as Andy has illustrated, were a catastrophic fall in working class living standards, as well as the seizure of the assets of the economy by a small clique of oligarchs. Critically for the current period – and the reason ultimately why state capitalism is such a pernicious theory – is that it prevents a scientific understanding of globalisation. And so you have Chris Harman even in this months socialist review asserting that the world economy remains in the same period of crisis as in the 1970s/80s.

  38. And interesingly in the former USSR, the big new capitalist owners largely do not come from the old bureacuracy.

    This bucked the trend of say Hungary, where many of the former bureaucrsts did very well out of privatisation.

    But the asset stripping of the USSR profited a number of figures like Roman Abromovitch. There is a sordid story to be told, but some of the new oligarchs had links with the USA, and Russian exiles like Gaidamak.