Soviet and US Economy

Mark Jones Jones_M at
Sat Jul 18 18:36:01 PDT 1998

The problem with Gorbachev and Aganbegyan is that they are somewhat tainted witnesses. Agenbegyan's own schemes for revitalising Soviet industry (the '500 Days' programme) led directly to the debacle which happened under Yeltsin. As for Jim Heartfield's position, it is actually the same as Richard Pipes' -- that everything which went wrong under Yeltsin was the direct result of the 70 years of communist evil.

Hillel Ticktin, as folks probably now, is a marxologist who edits Critique, a journal which has published many fine articles by people like Chris Arthur over the years, but which was also the platform for Ticktin's thoroughly egregious and rabid anti-communism. I don't find Ticktin -- or James Heartfield -- credible; unlike Barkley Rosser, who knows Russia, and always offers useful insights, even if one disgrees with the spin he puts on them, Jim Heartfield is simply reprocessing hackneyed stuff which anyone who spent any time in the USSR (sorry to pull rank like this) knows are mostly BS. And he cannot rise above his own prosaic preoccupations -- consumerism is what Living Marxism is all about, so it's no surprise that this is the prism thru which Jim tries to understand Soviet realities.

There are other and more important ways to measure Soviet achievements though, and they relate to more basic public health, mortality, morbidity, literacy and other measures of well-being. People like Nato-financed Murray Feshbach provide what are more devastating accounts of the grim Soviet and post-soviet realities, yet they also acknowledge the reasons WHY things turned out as they did -- and they pay tribute to what was achieved and is now lost. These dimensions are lacking in this somewhat impoverished LM discourse.

What is really tedious and depressing about Jim Heartfield is the total lack of any sense of history. His version of the Soviet Thirties is so tendentious as to be not worth responding to; his notion of economic 'inefficiency' is so breathtakingly lacking in context that you have to wonder how these streams of half-truths and distortions can be justified.

Anyone who even took the trouble, for example, to subscribe to Johnson's Russia List, which is now a Carnegie-funded, centrist platform for mostly US academics, and has lost whatever 'alternative' credentials it had, could simply not utter remarks like: "Dissatisfaction was widespread, and led to the collapse of the elite there", even if they knew nothing else about the place.

What shines thru all that Jim has to say on the subject is a desire to judge, rather than analyse and understand. Even academic sovietology and its post-soviet incarnations have got beyond anything so shallow; who now wants to waste time comparing and contrasting soviet and American development models? Who seriously can take Stalin's idea of 'socialism in one country' at face value, as (this is weird, when you think about it) Jim Heartfield does? For once you start to analyse the global historical context, and to consider the ways in which the USSR was always imbricated into the global accumulation process, and never rose above, and never could have risen above, the forms of technology, production and the social division of labour, including crucially the division of intellectual and manual labour, which prevailed in the west -- then what on earth sense does it make to even begin to regard the Soviet 'model' as one worth taking seriously in its own terms, and in terms of its own ideological self-perception?

The C19 Russian empire was a 'weak link', a state and society which was unable to modernise and was always a candidate for Africanisation, as tsarism imploded under western industrial, political and military pressure. What was always on the cards has now happened: but it was Soviet communism, aka Stalinism, kept that grim outcome at bay for seven decades. That's the real context. What Jim Heartfield retrospectively presribes for the Soviet Union was to abandon stalinist autarky and 'embrace the market'. In other words, he prescribes what Yeltsin prescribes.

It's as simple as that. It's an undisguised apologetics for colonial 'solutions' to developmental 'problems'.


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list