Prediciting Stalinism's collapse

Wojtek Sokolowski sokol at
Thu Jun 4 08:17:36 PDT 1998

At 12:34 PM 6/4/98 +0100, Jim heartfield wrote:
>>On Wed, 3 Jun 1998, Softel wrote:
>>> So ask yourself which "leftist",
>>> "socialist" or "Marxist" analysis explained the fall of the Soviet
>>> Union?
>Dennis volunteers the Franfurters. But to my mind there vision of
>stalinist domination did not envisage the collapse of the soviet system,
>more its endless reproduction.

I am highly suspicious of any attempts to predict the course of history - it sounds too much like fortune telling. I am even more suspicious about anyone talking about the "collapse" of the SU - the entity changed its name and political elites - but for heaven's sake, it did not evaporate into the thin air, did it? I can understand such spiel from Ivory-Tower-processed minds believing that ideas count more than material facts - but from a Marxist?

I think a better framed question is: which theoretical framework could best explain the behavior of the Russian political and economi cdecision-makers, including that during the current nine years? My nomination is Alexander Gershenkron who saw Russian development as frantic attmpts to overcome the country's backwardness and being able to compete militarly, which also implies economically, with the developed Western nations and Japan (Russia's arch-nemesis in the Far East).

For Gerschenkron, the main mechanism of "catching up with the West" was imitating Western forms of the organization of the economy perceived by Russian decision-makers as most successful and promissing. Thus, central planning was the idea of cartels, especially the German variety, transplanted to Russia with a few modofications to fit the local conditions. The role played in Germany by banks (as investors and hegemons curbing competition), in Russia was transfered to the State, due to the virtual absence of the banking system in that country.

Ah, there is also Marxist ideology that so inspired Western intellectuals. For Gerschenkron, this is nothing more than a managerial ideology, a public relations stunt employed by the top decison makers to mobilize and then appease the masses. That is, of course, not to say that there were no serious revolutionaries in Russia. It means that these revolutionaries were used in a similar way to, say, Clinton using Black or feminist activists to muster political support for his staunchly pro-business agenda.

So if we extend Gerschenkron's argument, we can see that Russian behavior is very consistent through the last hundred or so years, including the ill-fated nine years after 1989. They ary trying to stay afloat and compete with the West and Japan by adopting the organizational forms they perceive as successful. And since many of their economists and influential figures (cf. Kornai who was highly regarded among Eastern European economists) became convinced that market-schmarket is such a successful form, monkey-see-monkey-do and, presto, we see Russia cum satellites trying to introduce markets-schmarkets in the same top-down fashion they introduced cartels aka central planning some seventy years ago.

>From that point of view, Russia is a caricature of Western economic
organizations - that not only mimics the essential features of that organization, but also problems inherent in it. Thus, we should look at Russia not to learn what happened to socialism, but to see what can happen to capitalism.


Wojtek Sokolowski

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