Author Topic: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?  (Read 108246 times)

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Offline griffh

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #105 on: September 25, 2006, 09:50:22 PM »
Hey Guys, (I don't really know why I call this group, who are mostly women "Guys", maybe I am still really guilty about being so abusive to Tsarfan!)  Anyway what a truly wonderful discussion.

Yeah Elizabeth, leave it to you to come up with an incredible point that is broadly supported by Bev and all, not to mention some really good historic facts......but that Bear also makes a compelling point......Oh gosh, just to say that I am presently working as hard as I can on the Rasputin trial so I will not be contributing to this incredible thread or any other thread for awhile. 

Having said that, I can't wait for all of us to engage in my Alexandra Thread or my Nicholas thread after the trial.... It is sooooooo cool having friends, brilliant friends with differing points of view!!!!......toodle pip for now....Griff  P.S. Don't have too much fun without me.......

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #106 on: September 26, 2006, 06:51:46 AM »

I can't agree with the claim that the soviet economic policy of the Lenin/Stalin era was a reactionary policy.  If that were true, the Soviets would have made every attempt at building an army, rather than following a deliberate policy of underfunding it.  I believe that the Soviets saw the military as a threat, and a very effective one at that, considering the fact that they utliized the very same one.  Stalin spent a great deal of his time as leader, sorting out various plots, coups and mutinies in the army.  (And in his fear imagining more than a few.)  Yes, it became reactionary after WW II, but it was reactionary to the superpower status of the United States.  In my opinion, the arms race kept the Soviet Union alive longer than it would have lived, had it not been for the rivalry.


The following is from a U.S. military assessment of the history of Soviet military policy:

"While Lenin as a result of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, had a poilcy of peaceful coexistence, Stalin on the other hand argued that the Soviet Union had no choice but to become as strong as possible, arm, and await the next war . . . .  Stalin declared, 'the Soviet Union must never be toothless and groveling before the west again.'  To ensure the Soviet Union was . . . prepared for total and decisive war, Stalin in 1926 adapted the rationale originally put forth by M. V. Frunze in 1920 of 'socialism in one country.'  With the approval of Stalin the military began to advocate the mobilization of the entire economy to support the military and its role of diplomacy in positioning the Red Army for military success."

In keeping with the above view, most historians think one of the primary goals of the economic policies that were instituted in 1929 were to build the industrial base necessary to support soviet military aspirations.

It is true that, as Stalin descended into paranoia, he began to eradicate the upper echelons of the military.  Yet during those same years well before the outbreak of WWII, soviet military expenditure tripled.  Stalin understood, as did Hitler, that the military was a dangerous tool to wield . . . but an indispensible one in pursuit of aims on the scale of theirs.

Even Lenin, who was not in an economic position to prepare Russia to take on the West militarily, expanded the role of the military in Russian affairs, creating five military organizations where one had existed before -- two of which were deployed internally against the Russian population under the direction of the Interior Ministry and the KGB.  Perhaps a traditional military did not figure centrally in Lenin's political thinking about socialist revolution before 1918, but I think the Civil War and the Red Army's failed attempts to expand soviet reach westward as it quelled the internal resistance left even Lenin with a different understanding of the necessity of a strong military.

Offline Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #107 on: September 26, 2006, 03:27:57 PM »
Well here's my question then about your claim.  What is your meaning of Soviet military aims?  My understanding was that Stalin's policy of "Socialism in One Country" was a deliberate turning away from Trotsky and Lenin's policy of exporting revolution to advance a "United States of Europe" and towards an isolationist Russia.  While Stalin's policy of industrialization was at the beginning part and parcel of the new soviet army strategy of  multiple-armament during war, then why did he turn away from that strategy in the early thirties?  Yes, I agree that military expenditures tripled, but spending per soldier actually decreased as the soviets moved towards a mechanized army which is always more costly.  Also, the army procurement system was centralized into one department, instead of spread among many, which in my opinion, gave the impression of a gross expenditure in military spending which realistically doesn't appear to be so.  And of course, there's the funding and exportation of military epuipment that went to countries such as Spain and China, without materially improving the soviet army. 

What always struck me as odd about the Soviet Union, was despite the five year plans and the state directed economic policy, was their utter lack of planning a truly comprehensive budget.   

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #108 on: September 26, 2006, 04:32:49 PM »

Yes, I agree that military expenditures tripled, but spending per soldier actually decreased as the soviets moved towards a mechanized army which is always more costly.


But wasn't the very purpose of a more mechanized army to strengthen Russian's military capability?



Well here's my question then about your claim.  What is your meaning of Soviet military aims?  My understanding was that Stalin's policy of "Socialism in One Country" was a deliberate turning away from Trotsky and Lenin's policy of exporting revolution to advance a "United States of Europe" and towards an isolationist Russia.
   

Aye . . . there's the rub.  This question goes back to a very long debate several of us had on the old AP board about whether Stalin was really an ultra-nationalist in Marxist internationalist clothing.  As you might surmise, I tended toward the view that Stalin was in his deepest core an ultra-nationalist who thought Russia should be at the forefront of world affairs.  My view is that to Stalin, in a youth where the dreams of beating the West at its own game seemed unrealizable, putting Russia at the forefront of an international communist revolution was the next best means of creating a space for Russia on the world stage.  But, once he was at the helm of Russia, he began to envision a Russia he led asserting herself on the world stage as Russia, not as the vanguard of a Marxist world order in which nation states would ultimately dissolve.

This view is highly psychological, perhaps insupportably so.  But I put much stock in the notion that the three great self-aggrandizers of modern Europe -- Napoleon the Corsican, Hitler the Austrian, and Stalin the Georgian -- all grew up on the cultural and political periphery of the nations they aspired to lead to greatness . . . and that this compulsion of the outsider to become the ultimate insider is part of what drove all three of them on a very deep-seated level. 

So, what were "Soviet military aims?"  I think the clue lies in Russia's approach to eastern Europe after WWII.  Granted, Russia had an understandable desire to establish a buffer zone against future German encroachments.  But that goal could have been accomplished by eradicating all national boundaries within Russia's new sphere and fully integrated the whole region into a unified bolshevik state.  That is what Marx would have posited as the logical approach.  Instead, Stalin set up a ring of puppet states, with the tsar's old empire at the helm . . . maintaining its separate nationhood.



What always struck me as odd about the Soviet Union, was despite the five year plans and the state directed economic policy, was their utter lack of planning a truly comprehensive budget.
   

But wouldn't that have made it awfully hard to keep the myriad nests of private bureaucratic fiefdoms properly feathered?

Offline Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #109 on: September 26, 2006, 05:56:50 PM »
The last, first - thanks for the laugh - yes, stealing money is always harder if you have to account for it.  Apropos to that, it has always been my contention that the soviets didn't end the class system in Russia, they merely replaced it.  The same corruption, favouritism and privilege still prevailed, just the pay masters changed.

After consideration, I would agree that the change in the soviet economy was geared towards supporting a military, but my contention is that the change was abruptly overturned in 1933, when the military purge began, and those officers that supported the strategy of gearing the economy to the military lost support. 

As to your psychological assessment of Stalin et al, I would agree although I think Hitler and Stalin were unique in their sociopathology (and I'd rather chew rusty nails than get into that again) so much so, that it's difficult to say where the differential was between them and their nations. 

In my opinion, the reason Russia set up satellite states was their ostensible agreement at Yalta and Potsdam to self-determination of those states - to the soviets, appearance was everything, even the name of their country was about appearances. 

(Don't you wonder why these so-called intellectuals of the revolution were so incapable of understanding and implementing real change?)

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #110 on: September 27, 2006, 06:43:46 AM »

. . . it has always been my contention that the soviets didn't end the class system in Russia, they merely replaced it.  The same corruption, favouritism and privilege still prevailed, just the pay masters changed.


Exactly.  The private stores where only high party officials could shop, the reservation of the best apartments and dachas for those same officials, the broader range of study available to their families, the lighter restrictions on their movement.

I have always felt that soviet propaganda about the blissful state of the worker in their socialist paradise was just a reprise of Nicholas' and Alexandra's dreamy notions about their mystical bonds with the loyal, satisfied Russian peasants who wanted nothing more than for the tsar to remain on his throne to care for their interests.  Perhaps Nicholas and Alexandra were more sincere in their views . . . but I have never thought self-serving obtuseness was an appealing alternative to cynicism when it comes to running a nation.



In my opinion, the reason Russia set up satellite states was their ostensible agreement at Yalta and Potsdam to self-determination of those states - to the soviets, appearance was everything, even the name of their country was about appearances. 


But when the stakes got big enough, the soviets were willing to throw appearances out the door if it got in the way of their core objectives.  For instance, they blatantly violated the post-war accords when they cut off land route access to Berlin in 1948.  If Stalin truly believed Marx provided the roadmap for ordering the world's affairs, he would have handled central and eastern Europe differently. 



(Don't you wonder why these so-called intellectuals of the revolution were so incapable of understanding and implementing real change?)


Yes, I do.  My view is that history is a much stronger current than most people realize, and leaders who can swim against it for any period of time are very few and far between.  No matter how the Soviet Union started, by the time it fell it looked eerily like its tsarist forebearer:  an entrenched class system, an aggrandizing and nationalist foreign policy, embedded anti-semitism, lack of individual rights and guards against arbitrary state action, an abyssmal living standard for the masses, an empire held together by force, a sense that central government should ordain all affairs secular and spiritual (since I view enforced state atheism as much a state religion as Orthodoxy) and, ultimately, an atrophy that caused the existing order to collapse with little more than a sigh.

To me, only the intense gravitational pull of history could have exerted the forces required to morph Marxism into something that looked so much like autocracy.  True, the soviet version was far bleaker, having been stripped of the artistic and intellectual richness of old Russia and having left millions of corpses in its wake.  But directionally so very, very little had changed.

What an utter waste of an entire century for Russia.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #111 on: September 27, 2006, 08:20:14 AM »
While it’s true that there are historical continuities between autocratic Russia and the Soviet Union, I don’t think we should exaggerate them. Remember that Communism has been tried in many different countries with their own quite different histories, with virtually identical results. There must be something in Marxism itself that is attractive to totalitarian regimes. It is a very elegant, universalizing ideology that purports to explain everything and requires a certain degree of education and intellectual sophistication to understand (indeed there are different gradations of understanding or “initiation” into the mysteries of Marxism). Both qualities have always had a tremendous appeal to a certain type of intellectual intoxicated by power or the potential for power. Someone like Lenin, for example, thought that he had all the answers by virtue of having the “right” worldview and that almost everyone who disagreed with him was just plainly wrong or “unscientific” (Marxism being a “science,” you see!). Even Stalin, pragmatist and cynic, believed in Marxism as a methodology if not perhaps as an ideology (we don’t need to get into that debate again, Tsarfan!), which probably explains why he so frequently misread people and events.
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #112 on: September 27, 2006, 09:41:24 AM »

While it’s true that there are historical continuities between autocratic Russia and the Soviet Union, I don’t think we should exaggerate them. Remember that Communism has been tried in many different countries with their own quite different histories, with virtually identical results.


Ten years ago I would have agreed with this assessment.  However, I think the path that communism has turned onto in China is fascinating.  If things continue on this trajectory, they're going to wind up with a communist political system hybridized with a healthy, reasonably non-corrupt capitalist economy that apportions wealth over a wide range of the population.  I have no idea what the proper label would be for such a chimera . . . but it's going to leave China looking very, very different from the society Mao uprooted and from the society he attempted to create.

China and Russia travelled through the same dark tunnel of mass murder and brutal social engineering in the name of their Marxist aspirations.  China might actually emerge into a new order that creates a mix of material well-being and political control that the Chinese people will accept as a fair deal, despite the sour taste it leaves on western palates.  Russia, on the other hand, seems to be coming out of the tunnel depressingly near to where she entered.




There must be something in Marxism itself that is attractive to totalitarian regimes. It is a very elegant, universalizing ideology that purports to explain everything and requires a certain degree of education and intellectual sophistication to understand (indeed there are different gradations of understanding or “initiation” into the mysteries of Marxism). Both qualities have always had a tremendous appeal to a certain type of intellectual intoxicated by power or the potential for power.


Spot on.  I think you clearly state exactly what it is that makes Marxism attractive to totalitarian regimes.

I have never liked the notion that communism and capitalism were competing ideologies.  I think communism is an ideology, delivered up fully baked.  But I think capitalism is just the label attached after the fact to a series of organic developments as relatively open socieities evolved increasingly efficient means to organize themselves economically.

Offline AGRBear

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #113 on: September 27, 2006, 05:01:39 PM »
Tsarfan wrote in part:
Quote
It is true that, as Stalin descended into paranoia, he began to eradicate the upper echelons of the military.  Yet during those same years well before the outbreak of WWII, soviet military expenditure tripled.  Stalin understood, as did Hitler, that the military was a dangerous tool to wield . . . but an indispensible one in pursuit of aims on the scale of theirs.

Stalin managed to kill off many of his political rivals in the military and other high places long before Lenin's death and he continued to do so throughout his life.

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« Last Edit: September 27, 2006, 05:13:47 PM by AGRBear »
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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #114 on: September 27, 2006, 05:07:02 PM »
tsarfan quote in part:
Quote
But I think capitalism is just the label attached after the fact to a series of organic developments as relatively open socieities evolved increasingly efficient means to organize themselves economically.

After the  first group of captialists  were born and people were forced to take notice,  people had to give them some kind of surname  ;)

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« Last Edit: September 27, 2006, 05:12:56 PM by AGRBear »
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Offline Bev

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #115 on: September 28, 2006, 07:02:10 AM »
I would have to say that capitalism has become an ideology for many, but it is an economic policy.  Most successful democracies have a combination of socialism and capitalism which seems to have had its genesis in the earliest sociieties of humankind.

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #116 on: September 28, 2006, 09:30:48 AM »
Oddly enough, I think capitalism began to be thought of as an ideology largely because of the writings of Karl Marx.  Marx, in order to set up the contrast between the communist order he was proposing as inevitable and the older order it was to displace, talked about "capitalists" as people who owned the means of production, as opposed to the "proletariat" who slaved in the capitalists' factories.

Before Marx anthropomorphized the concept by labelling people as "capitalists", the concept of capitalism really was understood as a system for pooling money from various sources for financial ventures larger than one person would or could undertake.  I doubt if any of the people who put money into these pools thought of themselves as "capitalists" the way Marx' adherents were later to label themselves "Marxists" or "communists" or "socialists".  And most historians think that system of pooling money arose from the development of banking techniques in Renaissance Italy.  (Our word "bank" derives from the Italian word for bench -- "banco" -- and refers to the fact that early "bankers" worked off designated benches in market plazas where people could deposit money for transport, transfer, or safekeeping, or where they could borrow money or discuss other financial arrangements.)

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #117 on: September 29, 2006, 11:45:44 AM »

While it’s true that there are historical continuities between autocratic Russia and the Soviet Union, I don’t think we should exaggerate them. Remember that Communism has been tried in many different countries with their own quite different histories, with virtually identical results.


Ten years ago I would have agreed with this assessment.  However, I think the path that communism has turned onto in China is fascinating.  If things continue on this trajectory, they're going to wind up with a communist political system hybridized with a healthy, reasonably non-corrupt capitalist economy that apportions wealth over a wide range of the population.  I have no idea what the proper label would be for such a chimera . . . but it's going to leave China looking very, very different from the society Mao uprooted and from the society he attempted to create.

China and Russia travelled through the same dark tunnel of mass murder and brutal social engineering in the name of their Marxist aspirations.  China might actually emerge into a new order that creates a mix of material well-being and political control that the Chinese people will accept as a fair deal, despite the sour taste it leaves on western palates.  Russia, on the other hand, seems to be coming out of the tunnel depressingly near to where she entered.

But it's precisely the "society Mao uprooted...and attempted to create" that I was referring to. I don't think we can dismiss Maoism simply because the current Chinese leaders have turned their back on it. After all, 30 million peasants died during the Great Leap Forward alone, and another several million Chinese perished during the Cultural Revolution. So the short-term results of Communism in China were, as I said before, "virtually identical" to the results of Communism in the Soviet Union.

That said, I don't disagree that China's very different historical and cultural heritage has had a huge impact on recent developments in that country. For thousands of years, long before Communism was ever thought of, the Chinese had a large, flourishing middle class, unlike tsarist Russia; perhaps as a result, there has never been in China that peculiar disdain, even contempt for "trade" and other mercantile activities that was (although hopefully no longer is?) characteristic of Russia throughout the ages, whether we are discussing imperial or Soviet times. Moreover, the Chinese Communists were very wise and began their series of reforms not with glasnost' or perestroika but with agriculture. The Soviets would have been much smarter to have done the same. But I think in general the Chinese leadership learned a lot from the mistakes made by their counterparts in the Soviet Union.

It's interesting to note that according to at least one Cuba expert, it's possible that Cuba will eventually follow China's example in permitting both a wider development of capitalism in the country and further foreign investment under the aegis of Fidel's brother, Raoul, whilst at the same time preserving the Communist leadership and party. Again, though, I think that Communist leaders like Raoul Castro are learning from the mistakes of the Soviet leadership and their dire consequences for the ruling party.

« Last Edit: September 29, 2006, 12:02:03 PM by Elisabeth »
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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #118 on: October 01, 2006, 08:27:17 AM »

So the short-term results of Communism in China were, as I said before, "virtually identical" to the results of Communism in the Soviet Union.


I agree that the short-term results were the same.  In fact, I think the early stages of communism played out pretty much the same everywhere it actually seized control of governments -- with massive violent attacks on the institutions, attitidues, and lives of people that were thought to represent any holdover from the old order.  It strikes me as something akin to what is called the "first fervor" of people who make sudden conversions to a new religious belief.  "First fervor" is maked by uncompromising dogmatism and a sense that one's mission is to bring light into everyone else's darkness . . . and so it was with the early leaders of all communist governments.

However, communism eventually lost credibility in Russia as a means of ordering any part of society, whereas in China it has evolved into a system that retains many hallmarks of communist dogma.  In essence, I think communism in China forged a compromise with that robust middle-class heritage you pointed out.  Communism says to the population, "I let you choose to behave as capitalists in the arena of micro-economics, if you let me retain state control of some elements of macro-economics."  And the population says, "we can buy our cars, TV, and designer clothes quicker if we don't waste any energy fighting with you about political theory.  So, as long your answer is to give us a free hand to chase these things, we'll let you think you can control everything else."  I can think of fewer people today destined for more frustration than Chinese human-rights activists.

Maoism may not have survived any more than did Stalinism, but few people think communism is an entirely spent force in a China that is exponentially growing its economy, its standard of living, and its political clout almost two decades after communism drove the Soviet Union over a cliff.  Over the long haul, it does appear capable of generating different outcomes . . . although certainly at the price of losing its ideological purity.  (However, I would then argue that neither Mao nor Lenin stuck very close to Marx' ideological playbook, either.)



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Re: The Soviet Union: What Kind of Mistake Was It?
« Reply #119 on: October 01, 2006, 10:43:28 AM »
I seriously doubt that Marx ever contemplated "Communisim" as a political party.  As we in the 20th century have called it the Communist Party.

It was to be a utopean way of life.  Just as those "hippies" of the 1960s believed in communal living.

No hoarding of wealth or material things.  Apportionment to all.

Socialism on the other hand has a central "state" that "takes care" of its citizens.  FD Roosevelt was a socialist and proceeded to bring socialism to the US with his "New Deal" policies.  He created more "big government" than any other president. And more dependency on that governemnt.  His "entitlement" programs gave the citizens of the US the idea that no problem should be solved by the individual, but should be laid at the foot of government and solved by that same government with the passing of even more laws and entitlements.

And I am late to this discussion and no where near as educated in the subject as many of you. But I agree that transition from Imperial to Soviet rule made no difference in practical everyday terms.  Just new oppressors with different titles.

The blend of Socialism and Capitalism has worked in most of the Eurpoean countries since the end of WWII.  Great Britain, France, Germany, etc. all have that blend.

And I think it is true that a population who is allowed to persue its wealth attainment will ultmately allow its government to govern in any mannor just as long as that government doesn't interfere with attaining that personal wealth.

I am new to this thread because I didn't truly understand what was being asked.  "What kind of mistake was it?"  I'm still not sure I understand the question.  I think though that it was a mistake in the application and understanding of Marx.

Each country that has tried to impliment Marx's theories from Das Kapital has done so in its own way based on its own past and its own cultural coloring of the theories.

Perhaps that is why China and Cuba may evolve and remain "Comminist"  (but not purely in a Marxist way) and the Soviet Union (because of Stalin and his personality flaws and the oppression that followed even with successive leaders) fell.  The Russian way of life had been oppression under the Tsars for so long that the application of Marx was colored by oppression.  I have said in other threads that things might have been much different had Lenin not died so soon after the "revolution".

I worked with a woman who had recently imigrated to the US from Russia in the 1990s,  While I called it "the fall of the Soviet Union", she called it "the disolution of the Soviet state".  Interesting, isn't it?