Rebuttal of anti-Communism

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Thu Oct 15 07:12:14 PDT 1998

The following, part of an exchange from another list, is rebuttal of anti-communism and anti-Sovietism.

Charles Brown

Workers of the West, it's our turn

Part of the problem with claims made about the alleged social and economic failings of the Soviet system and the larger socialist world-system, whether they are from right wing anti-communists or left wing anti-communists, is that these claims rests on no factual ground (what anti-communists prefer to do is exaggerate and manufacture statistics they believe indicate political terrorism, typically by focusing on the crimes of Stalin - remember, for these ideologues all of Soviet history and all other socialist countries for their whole existence are to be judged solely on the basis of what the manufactured facts say about the evil of Stalin). Part of this is because even if they had facts they would just ignore them since they have already made up their mind that the state socialist experiment was a failure - whether this ideological stance is because they ideologically hate communism or because they are socialists who want to disassociate themselves from the system that right wing anti-communists have imagined (left wing anti-communists typically don't think for themselves or with their more objective comrades). But, much of the ignorance is because there have been very few actual studies of the social world-system, and even fewer actually comparing socialism to capitalism.

But it is not the case that no studies have been done. Shirley Cereseto's 1982 article, "Socialism, Capitalism, and Inequality" (from the Insurgent Sociologist 11[2] Spring), one of the most detailed historical-comparative studies ever produced, puts to death the claim that the Soviet Union and the socialist world-system were a failure. Shirley Cereseto (1982), addresses many of the oft-heard claims about the Soviet Union and other socialist states, claims such as "communism failed," communism was "inefficient and stagnant," the "people were betrayed by the Communist Party," "communism really didn't solve the problems of inequality," and all those other hyperbolic claims. In light of the evidence Cereseto provides, these are empty claims, as well, what amount to empty slogans. In no discussion I have ever been involved in with people who take the position against the Soviet Union have any facts or logical argument been advanced to back up their position. I have facts. On a comparative basis, state socialism represents a dramatic advance over the previous conditions that existed in those countries and regions. And state socialism surpassed most of the capitalist world in economic growth and social justice. The socialist world-system was a great success, betrayed by the Communist regimes in the 1980s. Stalin didn't betray the Revolution but rather advanced state socialism and in so doing bettered the lives of hundreds of millions of human beings.

Cereseto's article is a comprehensive historical-comparative analysis, rich in statistical data on a wide-range of social and economic variables. Thirteen socialist countries were used in the study covering one-third of the global population. These are countries that considered themselves socialist and were under the leadership of Marxist-Leninist parties for at least two decades at the time of the research, precisely the state that is being criticized in these posts. The logic of Cereseto argument is straightfoward: Marx argued that the capitalist mode of production generates several undesirable effects: e.g., the concentration of wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer people, leading to dramatic income and wealth inequality; increasing levels of poverty, both absolute and relative; an increase in the size of surplus labor population; and, under capitalist imperialism, a historic "solution" to endemic crisis, subjugated regions are drained of their resources and wealth. In her study, Cereseto finds that capital accumulation, capitalist productive relations and the corresponding relations of distribution clearly produce these effects in capitalist countries. Yet, Cereseto does not find these effects in the socialist countries she studied; the state socialist world-system represents a social formation distinct from the capitalist world-system and that these socialist systems represent an advancement in social organization over the capitalist system.

As I have noted before on other lists, Cereseto's research goes a long way towards settling two long-standing and related disputes among neo-Marxists: first, that socialist countries were/are in fact state capitalist countries. There are many variants of this argument, but the general thrust is that, despite state-ownership of the productive means, the state in these contexts was a capitalist actor. Second, neo-Marxists argue that because the world system is a capitalist world system, so-called socialist countries were/are capitalist by virtue of their being in the same world system. Both positions hold that capitalist laws of operation and development are, in part, still in force. But if the laws of capitalist development are still in force in these countries, then why haven't we seen the effects that result from these laws? Cereseto writes: "I view the new social formations as neither capitalist nor communist, but rather as being in the early stages of the long, arduous transition from one to the other. They are, in Marx's terms, societies in the `first phase of communism' which inevitably contain the defects of the societies from which they recently emerged. They contain many other defects as well, some of which arise from errors made while traversing the yet uncharted, obstacle-laden path to communism. Yet, the data presented here will clearly distinguish them from capitalist societies with respect to the important issues of equality."

The data Cereseto employs were collected by the World Bank, the Overseas Development Council (OCD), and other sources of macroeconomic and social data. A large chunk of the data came from The World Development Report (1978), which contained a massive cache of data concerning socialist countries, as well as data on capitalist countries. Overall, this report covers 125 nations, or all countries with better that 1 million population. The socialist countries identified are: People's Republic of China, Korean People's Democratic Republic, People's Republic of Albania, Republic of Cuba, Mongolian People's Republic, Socialist Republic of Romania, Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Hungarian People's Republic, People's Republic of Bulgaria, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Polish People's Republic, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and German Democratic Republic. Among the macroeconomic models Cereseto tests is the Marxist's view the mode of production as the crucial determinant of inequality. Inequality is structural; it is embedded in social arrangements internal to a social formation. And it is processual, i.e., a product of capital accumulation. In short, it is class relational, with unequal positions rooted in relations to structures and processes of production.

The variables used in analysis are as follows: gross national product per capita (GNP/c), as an indicator of developmental level; economic growth was measured by GNP/c average annual growth for the period 1960-1976; to determine level of economic development several variables inter alias percent of labor force in agriculture, per capita energy consumption, and percent of population in urban areas, the percent of primary commodities in exports (an indicator of internal division of labor), external debts as percent of GNP (a measure of economic dependence); birth/death rates, population growth rates, and total national population; total land density; self-designation and Marxist-Leninist leadership; ten physical quality of life variables (PQLV) used to measure fulfillment of basic human needs; the Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI), which has three components: life expectancy, infant morality, and literacy rates; several other measures of physical quality of life: calorie supply per capita as percent of requirements, population per physician, enrollment in secondary or higher education, female labor force as percent of total wage labor force (employment situation), percent unemployed, average rate of inflation (price stability); three variables were used to measure inequality in income distribution: percent of national income received by lowest 20 percent of the population, percent of national income received by top 5 percent of the population, and the Gini index for overall inequality (for the entire income distribution).

Cereseto devised a classification system to test her hypotheses. The ODC ranks all countries on per capita income, then divides the countries into four categories: high, upper-middle, lower-middle, and low income. These similar countries, according to the ODC classification, are compared. However, the problem with this classification scheme is that it does not permit the comparison of capitalist and socialist countries. So Cereseto had to divide out the socialist countries for comparison. She first arranged the capitalist countries according to per capita income and then divided them into three categories, low, middle, and high income. She then took the full range of socialist countries on per capita income and matched these with the one category of capitalist countries that subsumed the socialist level and range: the middle income group. "The lower and upper cut-off points for the middle-income capitalist category were selected so as to match the GNP/c of the lowest and highest socialist countries. Thus, the middle-income capitalist category and the category of socialist countries are almost identical in per capita income range." For other comparisons she used the full range of data, including measuring the socialist category against both the high and the low income categories for capitalist nations.

Without going into an extensive presentation of the statistical findings, the conclusions dramatically oppose the arguments made by those advocating the state capitalist thesis, as well as those who claim that these countries did not achieve significant levels of social justice - in short, the claim that the Soviet union was not a success are flatly false. For example, we do not see what we should expect to see in "actually-existing" socialist countries if they were state capitalist countries. Instead, we see what we would expect to see in a socialist transition to communism These data also demonstrate that the claim of "Soviet imperialism" is hollow. "The socialist countries are significantly higher in fulfilling basic human needs and in income inequality despite the fact that, as a group, they match the middle-income capitalist countries very closely on 6 of 7 measures of economic development." "While socialist countries, as a group, are at a lower level of economic development and have a much lower income level, they are on par with the wealthy capitalist counties on rate of economic growth (GNP/c) and on dependent variables.... PQLI scores are almost identical. On the other hand, the socialist countries have higher means scores on...6 dependent variables, and 5 of the differences are significantly better." Comparing means scores of all capitalist and socialist nations: "On mean per capita income, the two are almost identical. Socialist countries are higher on all other measures of economic development.... Socialist countries are better on every PQL variable, and significantly better on 7 of the 9."

Cereseto found that, with the exception of Yugoslavia, "which retains more capitalistic features than any other socialist country," "the data provided by the World Bank for 6 socialist countries places 5 of them above all other countries in the world on income inequality." This is a very interesting finding regarding Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia is often held up as a model of development, what they call "market socialism." But, just as we would expect, because it incorporated so many capitalist mechanisms into its economic system, it did quite poorly on matters of income equality and quality of life. She found that elites in capitalist countries "take more than twice as much in income along as the top two groups in socialist countries." On the other hand, "the lowest 20% of the population in socialist countries receive twice as great a share of the national income as their counterparts in capitalist countries...." "Thus, the data confirm the Marxist hypotheses that income equality and fulfillment of basic human needs will be higher in socialist than in capitalist countries...." What we find, however, is that socialist countries are the highest in the world in income equality. "The data do support the Marxist contention that the socialist countries constitute a separate system with different patterns of stratification. The data further support the Marxist hypothesis that the socialist countries will manifest less inequality than the capitalist periphery and semi-periphery of which they were a part in the past."

What about the position of the country in the global division of labor? With capitalism peripheral countries suffer form their relationship with the core. However, with socialist countries, primary commodities in export lead to dramatically opposite effects. This point is crucial to those who suppose that the relations between the Soviet Union and other socialist countries was an imperialistic, exploitative one. Moreover, that interstate relations differ so greatly among capitalist countries versus socialist countries calls into question the assertion of a one world system logic. Whereas for capitalist countries, a high level of primary exports (subordinate position) is significantly associated with lower urban population, higher agricultural labor force, lower PQLI, fewer physicians, higher death rates, lower school enrollment, greater income inequality, and a smaller decrease in birth rates; only one of the above correlations is significant for the socialist countries, and that one is in the opposite direction. Higher primary commodity exports is significantly related to lower death rates for socialist countries. It is also related, although not significantly, to a greater decrease in birth rates, a higher supply of physicians, and to greater income equality. In summary, for capitalist countries a higher proportion of primary commodities in exports (subordinate position) is significantly associated with lower economic development, worse PQL conditions, and higher income inequality. In contrast, for socialist countries the same measure is not associated with any of the negative characteristics assumed to be results of subordinate position and dependency. Cereseto's conclusion from these finding is that degree of inequality and fulfillment of human needs are consequences not of positions in the world economy, but of class relations. Primary commodity export emphasis, role in the international division of labor, position in a world economy are not in themselves primary determinants of the internal stratification of a country. But inequality is inherent in capitalist relations - within nations and among nations. If capitalist relations are overthrown and the working class assumes power, then it is potentially in a position to alter the nature of its production, its production relations, stratification, and relations with other states - in a more egalitarian direction. This is, in fact, what occurred in the countries which became socialist societies. To reiterate an earlier point, this is a strong refutation of the state capitalist thesis, and strong enough evidence to claim that these countries were, in fact, socialist.

Finally, the inequality gap. First, as expected, the gap between rich and poor has continued to increase in capitalist countries. What about for socialist countries? The Marxist model predicts that under socialism the inequality gap will narrow. Prior to WWII, those countries that would become socialist were distributed in the full range of the underdeveloped world (this is the entire world except for 14 developed countries). Three of the Asian countries that would become socialist were the poorest in the world. At the time of Cereseto's research no socialist country was in the bottom category. Every single one of them was in the middle-income range. In fact, 41 countries, covering 34% of the world's population, had per capita incomes below the poorest socialist nation. Cereseto found that for capitalist countries, when examining the correlation coefficient of GNP/c with GNP/c growth rate, that "there is a significant positive relationship ...that wealth is correlated with faster economic growth rate. Whereas, the relationship is insignificant and slightly negative for socialist countries." For socialist countries which belong to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistant (CMEA), this represents a deliberate policy of planning to narrow the gap. For socialist countries in general, however, whether or not they are members of CMEA, the data support the claim that there are no systematic, exploitative, economic mechanisms operating among socialist countries designed to maintain positions of economic dominance and subordination. "In terms of meeting basic human needs and income inequality which are primary concerns of the paper," she continues, "the data are even more striking." "The dispersion on the Gini Index of income inequality between capitalist countries is almost 2 times as great as the difference in the range between socialist countries. PQLI scores within the capitalist world system range from an incredible score of 14 to 100, whereas for the socialist countries the range is quite small, from 76 to 96. The disparity within the capitalist world system on each of the PQLI components is enormous.... The range of score for the socialist countries, by comparison is very narrow... [A]t the present time, life expectancy, literacy, and infant mortality rates for all socialist countries are substantially better than the mean scores of the capitalist countries." Ironically, Cereseto points out that the goals specified in Reshaping the International Order: A Report to the Club of Rome, by the Tinbergen Group in 1976 (a study group formed by the elite capitalist organ the Club of Rome), have been surpassed by all the socialist countries, whereas only the high income groups among capitalist nations have met the Tinbergen goals.

To conclude, I am going to quote extended extracts from the summary and implication section of Cereseto's paper. In contrast to the other models discussed in her paper, the data "appear to be more adequately explained by the Marxist proposition that each social system has its own set of laws. The law of capitalist accumulation, with its priority on private profit maximization, inevitably leads to uneven development, to growing concentration of wealth at one end of the pole and poverty at the other end. The difference material conditions of life them, in turn, produce different rates of population growth. In a socialist society, with the means of production publicly owned, with the imperative of private profit maximization eliminated, production can theoretically be planned to meet basic human needs of the entire population. With improvement in economic conditions, in security, in public health and educational services, in opportunities for employment of women, population growth would decrease. These assumptions and propositions appear to be supported by the data examined in this study." "The main value of this study and the major implications stem from the findings which support Marx's proposition that social relationships are governed by laws which are distinctive and specific to each social system. Research which studies only capitalist societies or which includes socialist countries intermingled and not distinguished as a separate system contributes to the belief that the relationships found in these many studies are universal and inevitable processes.... The data in this study contradict such assumptions. The evidence demonstrates that socialist countries, with planning geared toward meetings the basic human needs of the entire population and toward decreasing inequality have made important strides toward such goals in a relatively short period of time even through most began at a very low stage of economic development."

It is obvious that the anti-Soviet claim does not stand up against the facts. I know that your sarcasm asked to be told against about Russia's successes. But I am almost sure this is the first time you have ever been confronted with the facts. Maybe, if you care about the truth, you will take a little time to rethink your position. That would be the correct position to take.

> this is the first time i have ever seen dialectics used as a synonym for
> pragmatism.

Not synonymous, but a big part of dialectics is pragmatism. You should go back and read Marx's Eleven Theses on Feuerbach (if you haven't already). You should also read some a latter preface to the Communist Manifesto (I know you don't find the document very interesting) where Marx makes a quintessentially pragmatist argument about how to understand the intersection of policy and history.

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