Impact of the Collapse of the USSR

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Impact of the Collapse of the USSR
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I want to take up to a point Lonelondoner made in the discussion of class struggle at yesterdays day of discussion

He said something like the waves of struggles in places like turkey brazil Greece in the last few years happened because of the collapse of the USSR in 1989 This seemed a bit extreme to me at the time and Ok I was criticising the idea of 1980s as ‘Years of Truth’ but  I would agree that the collapse of an imperialist bloc must have consequences for subsequent events and the subsequent period.  

It was also suggested later that 1989 was a result of class struggle in the eastern bloc itself whereas I would ascribe the collapse as a result of the need of the USSR to gain computing and communication technologies

Its just that I don’t understand the idea that the most noteworthy factor in the recent wave of struggles is the collapse of the USSR (which is how it came over to me)  Is this what was meant and it occurs to me to ask if it was meant as a positive factor in encouraging struggle or as a negative factor in hindering it

I understand that some parts of the B make use of the idea that ‘communism was bad and did not work anyway ‘ is used to try to prevent workers struggle but I would have thought that that the ongoing existence of the USSR would have been a stronger ideological argument against workers struggle.  It didn’t however prevent class struggles of the 60s-80s. 

Anyway Id appreciate some more explanation of what was said

KT
An important debate

Trying to work out my own assessment of the ICC's Day of Discussion in London (June 22, 2013), Link's post about the impact of the collapse of the USSR has confirmed that even if the meeting was unable to resolve many questions raised by reality and our (plural) analyses (plural) of it, then at least it posed issues worthy of further discussion. That's got to be a positive, as is Link's will to push for clarification on this specific issue.

I didn't actually hear LL say "something like the waves of struggles in places like turkey brazil Greece in the last few years happened because of the collapse of the USSR in 1989" which is Link's recollection. I would be somewhat surprised if the comrade LL had said this or something similar, simply because he’s a long-time ICC member and I don’t think that’s the ICC’s ‘position’, its analysis. Perhaps the notes or tapes will eventually clarify this particular intervention but we shouldn't wait for them. 

The question, I would argue, is what did and does the ICC say in its major written texts - both at the time and in the intervening years - about the implosion of the Eastern Bloc and have events tended to verify or nullify these analyses?

That’s quite a tall order

a)     Because that’s almost a quarter of a century of history to cover and in addition, the ICC has written lots on the subject

b)     Because, as Link affirms, “I would agree that the collapse of an imperialist bloc must have consequences for subsequent events and the subsequent period.”

The question concretely is “what ‘consequences’, why and where?” I’m being cautious, spelling stuff out (for my own benefit as much as anyone else’s) because I think this could be an important discussion which may take some time to unfold.

There’s more: “It was also suggested later that 1989 was a result of class struggle in the eastern bloc itself whereas I would ascribe the collapse as a result of the need of the USSR to gain computing and communication technologies.”

Again: I can’t recall this particular intervention (wake up at the back there) but irrespective of my (selective?) deafness, the role of the class struggle in the collapse of the eastern bloc is an important point – in fact I think it goes to the heart of the issue of ‘decomposition’ and another of the ICC’s analyses – “The Historic Course.”

So: much to discuss, on these issues alone. Here, I want to make some assertions:

1)     The idea that the “collapse [of the Eastern Bloc is] as a result of the need of the USSR to gain computing and communication technologies.” is utterly untenable. An entire military/political/industrial complex of almost 40 years standing, which had formed one half of the world imperialist constellation of forces, dissolves because of this? I’d invite comrade Link to re-formulate his arguments here.

 

2)     The idea that the collapse of the Eastern bloc had a profound (essentially negative) effect on the class struggle is indisputable, IMO. To what degree, to what extent, we can and will argue over. But even bourgeois scribblers, trying today to convey the historic depth of the current struggles in Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Bulgaria, Greece and elsewhere, use it as a reference point: “In 1989, we learned that people prefer individual freedom to communism. Today, in many countries, it is capitalism that is associated with cronyism, repressive force and elite politics, and until this changes, this Human Spring looks likely to continue” Paul Mason, The Permanent Revolution, The Independent, 22.7.2013)
 

3)     It was said at the London meeting that working class consciousness was not just an immediate phenomena but had a historic dimension. However it also has a ‘pole of attraction’, an aim, a perspective, a future (something rather important for humanity when the bourgeoisie has no project except war and austerity). That perspective, even before the time of Marx but certainly since him, has been communism.

The fact that, post 1930, what was touted as ‘communism’ (ie the ‘Soviet Union’) was nothing of the sort was only a further factor in the defeat of the working class at that time.

Link says that the continuation of this nightmare-presented-as-communism may have served bourgeois ideology just as well post 1989: “I understand that some parts of the B make use of the idea that ‘communism was bad and did not work anyway’ is used to try to prevent workers struggle but I would have thought that that the ongoing existence of the USSR would have been a stronger ideological argument against workers struggle.

Well, who knows? But it didn’t happen that way, did it? History isn’t made of ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’. The fact is that the USSR didn’t continue after 1989. And its collapse was used as the basis for a massive, effective and continuing campaign to poison the perspective of communism.

4)     On the role of the class struggle in bringing down the Eastern bloc. This is more complicated. In 1980, the struggles of the Polish workers (Poland was occupied by and was part of the Soviet bloc at that time) really weakened the former Eastern bloc. They were the most powerful struggles since May 68. The culmination of them, in fact. In this sense, the general awakening of the workers’ struggles determined the course of history at the time.

However, the struggles in Poland were defeated (with the help of the West, which had no interest in their generalisation – on the contrary) Thus, when almost a decade later, the Eastern bloc, burdened by great debts in trying to compete with the US/West, collapsed, it appeared this event had absolutely nothing to do with immediate workers struggles (and in an immediate sense it didn’t). This is why an event of world historic importance – the “collapse of communism”, the ‘fall of the wall’, the triumph of ‘democracy’ and the ‘fall of communism’ – appeared to have nothing to do with workers struggles, and workers’ struggles had no influence on world events, according to the dominant ideology. This also sapped workers confidence in their ability to affect world events.

5)     Err.. it’s late. I’ll leave it there. To be continued. Hopefully with/by others.

jk1921
I'll challenge the idea that

I'll challenge the idea that the collapse of "communism" had a significant impact on workers' struggles. Not because I necessarily believe that, but to try to elucidate a different way of looking at the last two and a half decades that is still Marxist/left communist.

The so called "death of communism" can only have an impact on workers' struggles if workers are already to a significant degree considering communism, i.e. they already see communism as the ultimate teleological goal of their struggles. However, when has this ever been the case, except in pre-revolutionary situatuions (and even then it is questionable)? On the contrary, workers struggle in order to attempt to realize concrete goals to defend or improve their immediate living standards. Abstract political goals, like communism, democracy, etc. are never the immediate "cause" of point of production struggles. When we blame the collapse of so-called communism for the insufficient level/intensity of working class struggle over the last two decades we are assuming a level of political development that only comes much later on in the course of a series or wave of struggles that emerge as a response to concrete economic issues.

Therefore, if we are going to understand the course of the last two decades, we must look elsewhere to explain the relative social quiet of the period, to the political economic structures of neo-liberal capitalism itself--the breakdown of large concentrations of workers in manufacuturing, the collapse of working class identity and the promotion of an individualist ethic, but most importantly the proliferation of debt based consumerism as the principle form of legitimation.

While it is true that the so-called collapse of communism may have had some impact on the development of "politicized" minorties (although even then, the depth of this phenomenon is questionable--Stalinism accomplished this goal long before on its own), the reduction in instances of massive point of production struggle cannot be explained as primarily due to ideological factors. This is another version of the rather idealist notion that the working class remains unable to accomplish its historical telos due to faulty thinking, because it is deceived, hoodwinked, led astray, etc. (There is a certain lingering substitutionism behind this kind of thinking also).

In this context, it may be worth it to note that the types of struggles we have seen over the last several years HAVE in fact been oriented more towards abstract political ideals such as the realization of "true democracy," rather than more classic point of production concrete defense of living standards struggles. But what does this illustrate about the nature of struggle in this historical era? What is the relationship between these social revolts and workers' struggles? Must the working class come to have confidence in communism once again (but when did it ever?) before it can launch a series of massive struggles that pose the possibility of a development towards the communist perspective? Wouldn't this be a tautology? The working class must know what real communism is before it can develop the communist perspective?

Are these social revolts just the first step in the recovery of massive workers' struggles or are they of a fundamentally different nature, correpsonding to a different sociological and political economic landscape and therefore require a real rethinking of the conceptual tools we use to grasp them?

 

baboon
lots of questions

Big discussion that will run and run.

Firstly I agree with KT's response to Link.

Then I want to defend the idea that the collapse of the eastern bloc, just as its existence, presented the bourgeoisie with the outlines of a massive ideological attack on the working class and they took it up with gusto. It wasn't just the collapse of the eastern bloc, it was the end of class struggle, we were all capitalists now whether we liked or not, capitalism and democracy had triumphed over communism - the fact that Russia wasn't communist nor ever had been did not deter the bourgeoisie at all. Capitalism, they even told us, wasn't perfect but, in its democratic component it was the best system we had, the only system we had. Don't doubt or underestimate the material strength of the bourgeoisie's ideological apparatus. Everywhere across the world, this message was hammered home day after day by way of the bourgoeisie's media. I think that the reasons for the relative passivity of the working class in the face of the attacks against it are complex and many and the weakening of working class identity - and its lack of confidence - can also be put down in part to the whole campaign around the "the death of communism, the victory of capitalism". Of course bourgeois ideology is there to hoodwink, fool and mystify the proletariat - there's a massive industry based upon it.

Jk is correct I think when he says that workers do not struggle for abstract goals - we could argue that when they do they are on the road to defeat. But as Lenin said, and this is particularly the case now, every strike has the hydra of revolution behind  it. It's reductionist and misleading to say that the ICC position is that the eastern bloc has collapsed and the bourgeoisie has pronounced the "death of communism" and therefore the workers' struggle for communism is equated with this death and it will not struggle for communism. Let's be clear, there is nowhere in the world, in the short or medium term, where the workers will be knowingly struggling for communism - that's a long time ahead. One of the points about a revolutionary minority is that it recognises the "lines of march" well before the masses become aware of it - and there's nothing substitutionist about that.  To put it, as jk does, that the workers must have confidence in communism before it develops a communist perspective is to put the cart before the horse. Firstly it must find the confidence in itself to undertake its struggle and, don't forget, during the course of this struggle developing its confidence can be knocked again. There's no Royal Road to communism as jk seems to suggest where the workers reconnect to communism and then institute the communist perspective. The campaign of the bourgeoisie wasn't aimed at stopping the working class becoming communist it was aimed at taking the guts out of class struggle, a struggle that had been developing for over two decades, it was aimed at draining the confidence out of the working class and opening it up to more extensive and ruthless exploitation.

There's a continuity and then a sharpening in the bourgeoisie's campaign regarding the eastern bloc and its so-called communism. I can't go into it all here but how many workers told us to "go back to Russia" when we were leafletting or discussing in the 70s and 80s? Communism was equated with Russia in the minds of the workers and that was a result of the bourgeoisie's ideological campaign. The campaign on the collapse of Russia being the  "death of communism" was an extension, a dramatic one, of a campaign that was born in the counter-revolution and was global. Another result of this campaign was a great strengthening of the trade unions and trade union ideology. Instead of the struggles, like the 70s and 80s, tending to come up against the trade unions, now they were the only defence we had apparantly and this itself reinforced the lack of confidence in the class - not in its "communist vision" which doesn't exist, but in the struggle, the only place where the working class will eventually develop its communist perspective.

I don't think that the break downs of large concentrations of workers (coal, steel, etc.) are all that important in the difficulties of fighting back because such concentrations often favoured the isolation of those workers and the further development of corporatism. Besides there are still massive concentrations of workers and, day after day, the proletariat everywhere runs and produces everything. And if certain industries  in the west have been outsourced then China shows that, out of nothing but the conditions of exploitation, the proletariat reappears, fighting, struggling, organising itself on a major scale, then this is all very positive.

Big discussion about social revolts and the need for generalised class struggle. But one observation: the bourgeosie talk a lot about how in these social revolts it's the "middle class" (or the "middle classes") that are a factor. Paul Mason flogs this line. But there's no "middle class", there's peasants and aspiring bourgeois but the majority of these protesters, in Brazil and Turkey today, even if they are acting as individuals, are a part of the working class and can easily be incorporated into the class struggle.

Link
Not utterly untenable at all!!

 

First of all the starting point of my previous point was to ask for clarification of what Lonelondoner said as afterwards I felt unsure of what was meant and i would rather to wait for his intervention here or a note from whoever has the recordings.  (The issue of whether class struggle caused the collapse of USSR came up in a conversation between sessions so please don’t worry about having fallen asleep KT) 

I am afraid I don’t know the ICCs position on what caused the collapse of USSR and it impact since.  Can somebody summarise this please?

I do however maintain that KT (and Baboon?) would be wrong to exclude the impact of new technology on this process. 

What was untenable was for anybody amongst us to suggest the collapse of the USSR before it actually happened.  But it did  and as a result the reasons are never likely to feel that convincing - to be honest only military defeat sounds like sufficint reason for a military bloc to surrender.  Its just that it did happen.  Also I don’t see debt as a sufficient reason alone for the collapse – otherwise you would be suggested the collapse of the western bloc – and presumably you are not doing so!!

One of the most important long term developments to come out of the 1980s has the development of digital technology.  This is not a peripheral issue.

However the Eastern Bloc strength prior to the 80s was its military muscle, massed armies, tanks rockets and nuclear arsenal.  It was never an economic power and its economy bore the brunt of this, hence the lack of consumer goods the underdevelopment of the infrastructure in its towns and cities, the lack of service industries and the physical barriers to stop its population leaving for the ‘bright lights of the west’

The computing and communication developments in the 1980s meant that the Western Bloc was coming forward with a whole new level of sophisticated high –tech weaponry with which USSR could not compete.  It just could not afford to develop the technology itself – hence levels of debt and lack of profitability do play a role here.

KT you suggest the USSR ‘dissolved’ – not such a bad term unless you mean it in the sense of decompose.  I am of the opinion that the USSR effectively gave up the conflict because it could see it could no longer afford to confront the West militarily (or economically).   This is the core of my argument, if you have other factors please do raise them but I do not think you can call this untenable!

Gorbachov took the route that in wishing to open up the economy to trade with the west, that the state also had to allow greater political freedom but all controlled by the CP.  This policy was clearly supported and encourage by the B in the West but it failed.  Political freedom ignited the population in another of these social movements that we have been seeing across the world in recent years  (perhaps this is what Lonelonder meant?)  and the national state structures across the Eastern bloc collapsed in the aftermath.

China has been more successful  in transforming and modernising their economy.  It has opened up the economy to trade with the west, brought in lots of inward investment and sent its firms and their products out into the world market.   The path the Chinese B took was to retain political control with the CP  and keep a tight control over its population however and up till now this has been a more successful policy – can it continue however??

Link
What has been holding back the wc over the past 2 decades

 

Kts Point 3 Yep Sorry KT I didn’t express things well  there.  I think I wanted to suggest that before 1989 the idea ‘Communism exists in Russia and its brutal  so don’t struggle for it’ was probably a more effective campaign for the B than the ‘communism has failed therefore don’t struggle’  idea that appears since then.  It was also pointed out in the discussion itself that in fact the continuing success of communism in China and to a lesser extent in India  must run counter to your argument.

Bourgeois commentator may only now have discovered that capitalism and repressive and corrupt but I think that was quite well known by workers across the world before 1989 too and they did indeed struggle against it.

Im not sure if that will be more agreeable to you bit I was trying to argue against the stress that was put on the latter idea as THE effective campaign against the wc.  I do however get this idea again from your statement ‘And its collapse was used as the basis for a massive, effective and continuing campaign to poison the perspective of communism’ 

In my presentation I tried to suggest there is a range of measures and activities undertaken by the B to push back class struggle since the late 1980s and would not deny that the failure of (Russian) communism idea is out there but as I suggested I feel that the notion that economic struggle is pointless has been a far more effective barrier to  the class and better fits the phrase you have used of  ‘ a massive, effective and continuing campaign to poison class struggle’

jk1921 poses very good questions about how the current wave of class struggle is emerging and i feel these deserve more serious responses.  At the day of discussion some analytical points were made by ICC comrades about the nature of these struggles but the discussion wasnt able to develop them well.    It felt like this was a new discussion though without a clearly worked out analysis as yet.  Not sure if that is correct but it would be good if the discussion could go on in that direction. Too late for me to think futher on this though tonight

baboon
a bit more on Russia

What was striking about the collapse of Russia in 1989 was the complete absence of the proletariat from events, directly or indirectly. After the collapse of the Russian state the Russian mafias became forces for a certain political and economic stability, which gives an indication of the depth and breadth of the collapse itself.

What happened in Russia was first an foremost an economic implosion from a tentacled state apparatus that could not keep up with the needs of imperialist aspirations faced with the advances and technology of the US war machine - there's something in what Link says here but the technological question is a symptom rather than a cause. Another factor bringing down the mighty Russian bear was the effects of the crisis on it bloated, party/croney-ridden, cumbersome and totally inefficient state capitalist economy.

The mass strikes in Poland 1980,  were a beacon and culmination of what was developing in this sector of the class over the previous two decades. There were widespread strikes in Yugoslavia in the late 80's which were dead and buried in a few years under the internicine warfare and the  triumph of nationalism and imperialism in the Balkans. The working class wasn't at all involved in the sudden collapse of the Russian economy and its political and military apparatus.

Like the working class everywhere, the proletariat in Russia was completely disorientated by events and in the European and Asian satellites of the ex-Russian Republic, the upswell of resulting nationalism drowned out any expression of class struggle.

At the highest levels, the bourgeoisie of the west was also initially surprised and confused to some extent by the development of events. But they had known enough to launch a global saturation campaign around the "victory of capitalism". This was on top of their intervention into Russia itself through it campaigns supporting "Persestroika" and "Glasnost", ie, Russian democracy. Initially dismissive of it after the fall of the wall, the bourgeoisie made the the victory of capitalism and democracy central to the unification of Germany - another crucial area where the proletariat was completely mystified East and West and the class struggle totally absent.

In the face of this massive campaign of the ruling class the workers didn't think "there goes my communist perspective" - most of the workers I talked to were well aware that Russia wasn't communist but the view that stalinist Russia was where struggle leads you was massively reinforced.

The bourgeoisie knew that they had delivered a blow against the working class, that it was confused, that its struggle developing over previous decades had been stopped in its tracks. In short they smelt blood. The trade unions would have been instrumental on picking up on this  and then acted thus in accordance with the needs of the state. Thus, with the "victory of communism", attacks on the working class began to rain down all over the industrial world and particularly in its centres. All aspects of wages and conditions of work were attacked and this was facilitated by the new "realism" of the trade unions and then these attacks were extended much further out of the work place.

Things have moved on since the collapse of Russia but the bourgeosie have driven home their idea from the collapse of Russia that the latter shows that struggle doesn't pay.

jk1921
Need More Convincing

I am still trying to work through how the idea that the proletariat is "mystified" by the rancor around the "death of communism," explains the retreat of class struggle over the last two and half decades. I agree that the bourgeoisie did launch an extensive ideological campaign at the time, but that was two and a half decades ago. Shouldn't material conditions, the decline in overall living standards for the working class since then, have shown through this ideology by now--if that is what was indeed holding the class back? 

But wasn't the class struggle already in retreat (at least in the Anglo-American countries) for a number of years prior to the collapse of the wall? Hadn't Reagan vanquished the air traffic controllers and Thatcher the miners before this all happened? I can see how the theory might work for Germany, or perhaps France, but in the Anglo-American countries the retreat seems to have been on before the collpase of wall, which, as Baboon says, quite took the bourgeoisie by surprise.

In the end though, I think the difficulty lies in using an ideological explanation to account for a decline in class struggle that seems to have more direct, immediate, material origins. If workers don't initially struggle for communism, how can an ideological campaign about the death of communism send it into retreat? There is something missing here. We seem to be makign LBird's error--assuming workers must be considering communism before they can develop a communist perspective.

I am not certain of any of this and am open to being convinced otherwise, but I think the use of "mystification" to explain almost three decades of halting class struggle requires some rethink. Are these themes part of the ICT's critique of the ICC's supposed idealism? The use of explanatory devices like ideological mystification, bourgeois maneovers etc. to head off a class struggle that would otherwise emerge, rather than a more sober minded evaluation of the objective sociological recomposition of the class (or something along those lines)?

 

baboon
I think that there is no one

I think that there is no one on this thread, in the ICC, or sympathetic to the ICC, that  assumes that workers must be communist before they can adopt a communist perspective. It's a false argument, a false position that jk attributes to the ICC's analysis of the collapse of the eastern bloc and then takes it from there.

For jk, the campaign around the death of communism can only have an impact if workers are already considering communism, ie, that they see communism as a result of their struggles, that the position of the ICC - he goes on to intimate - is that workers must be communist to adopt a communist perspective.

Firstly jk underestimates the other major factor in the class struggle - the bourgeoisie. As KT says above, there were great difficulties in the ICC itself in even recognising that the bourgeosie existed and acted as a class with its own class interests. Jk perpetuates this long-clarified confusion by calling the analysis of the ability and manoeuvrability of the bourgeoisie as "facile". In a word he eliminates one of the two factors of the class struggle. It's totally irresponsible not to take the actions of the bourgeoisie into account in the class struggle. This is a class, that whatever it specific differences, in constantly aware of the threat of the working class (even at the end of World War II, where the working class was crushed) and directs its state structures in accordance within the needs of its struggles to maintain bourgeois order.

Jk admits that the bourgeoisie launched a massive campaign around the collapse of communism, he admits that it had an effect across swathes of the industrial world and if he thinks that this did not affect Britain and the USA - where there were certainly some important prior defeats of class struggle - then the trade unions and their new "realism" certainly did. It was a strong campaign, it's not eternal - no one has ever argued that it was - and we can see with social expressions that it is reaching its limits. But the collapse of the USSR, or rather the deafening campaign around it, made a significant contribution to the disorientation of the working class and goes some way to explaining why the proletariat is to some extent reluctant to struggle. It wasn't the only reason and it is wearing out.

The ICC position on the development of consciousness is clear in this respect jk and you can check it out in various publications rather than make up your own version of it. The development of class consciousness comes from within a struggle that can be for more pay, less attacks at a fundamental level or for political slogans at higher levels (Poland 1980, eg). A struggle for abstract ideas - democracy and so forth - can only lead to defeat. The revolutionary perspective comes out of the generalisation and self-organisation of struggles, the communist perspective can only begin after the revolutionary perspectives is realised to some extent. To say that the ICC's position is that workers must be communist to adopt a communist perspective is to attribute a false position to it - there is no such position defended anywhere by anyone in the ICC. The communist perspective - of which we, ie, the revolutionary minority, have only the faintest lines of march - is born from the struggle (or not as the case may be) and developed from there. What the campaign of the bourgeoisie around the collapse of the USSR did, wasn't to discredit communism from workers who were already considering it, it was to increase the disorientation of the working class, to sap its will to struggle and to strengthen the organs of the bourgeoisie state which deal directly with the working class. I entirely disagree that you can leave the organisation and actions of the bourgeoisie out of the class struggle by flippantly labelling it as idealist.

Just a footnote: above I said that over the years I've talked to a lot of workers about politics/communism. One of the constant themes from workers, both before and after the collapse of the USSR, was the position that "Yes, communism is a good idea in theory, but it would never work in practice" (because look at Russia/ man's innate greed/human nature/we want to be individuals/and so on). Now these arguments reappeared a lot from "ordinary" unpoliticised workers over long period. I'm sure that other comrades heard similar types of arguments. What they show is that workers have thought about communism "in theory" and what they use to justify an argument against it is all sort of bourgeois ideology. So there is an element of a weak red thread there that still exists in workers' consciousness. But as I say above, and believe this to be the position of the ICC, it is only in the struggles for its own conditions that the proletariat can possibly develop a revolutionary consciousness and within and from this a communist perspective that will embrace all of humanity.

KT
'Wrong Ideas'?

Baboon has made many of the points I wanted to address and, with one caveat (which I’ll return to later), I agree with what he’s said and how he’s said it.

Link wrote: However the Eastern Bloc strength prior to the 80s was its military muscle, massed armies, tanks rockets and nuclear arsenal. It was never an economic power and its economy bore the brunt of this, hence the lack of consumer goods the underdevelopment of the infrastructure in its towns and cities, the lack of service industries and the physical barriers to stop its population leaving for the ‘bright lights of the west ....I am of the opinion that the USSR effectively gave up the conflict because it could see it could no longer afford to confront the West militarily (or economically). This is the core of my argument, if you have other factors please do raise them but I do not think you can call this untenable!”

I largely agree with the above explanations which in essence describe the weaker imperialist bloc whose economy was largely devoted to and drained by the needs of war and whose ruling class was defeated, encircled at the military level. You can say the Soviet leadership ‘gave up’, or that it “surrendered” to the ‘enemy’ and to the inevitable, or that it by and large lost control (of its satellite states; of its economy, of its population – particularly in Poland (1980-82) and in Eastern Germany, 1989). What I called “untenable” was the idea, as originally formulated by Link, “That I would ascribe the collapse as a result of the need of the USSR to gain computing and communication technologies.” As Baboon says, this was a symptom, not a cause. In all events, I don’t think there is any profound disagreement at this level.

And I agree with Link’s attempt (in his interventions and in his presentation to the LDoD) to present a considered, rounded view of decadence – one which doesn’t merely see a descent into a black hole but which recognises (my words, not his) a growing contradiction between the forces of production and the social relations in which they are increasingly stunted. The recent ICC editorial, Scientific Advances and the Decomposition of capitalism (1), goes in the same direction, I believe.

Nonetheless, as Link acknowledges, decadence at root is a reality synonymous with the degradation of the proletariat’s living standards and with a growing threat to our species. Global economic convulsions; world wars; the deployment of nuclear weapons and the increasingly obvious degradation of the environment confirm the latter. The calculation, made by the left communist Lauren Goldner, that in the 1950s one salary supported a proletarian family in the US, whereas in more recent times, it took two salaries, illustrates well the former. And that, obviously, only includes salaried, employed proletarians in the heartland of capital... In short, we should be clear on the fundamental trajectory of decadent capitalism.

Re JK1921’s original contribution (post #3): I agree with the response of Baboon. When you examine JK’s own explanations of the relatively low-level of class struggle - “the breakdown of large concentrations of workers in manufacturing, the collapse of working class identity and the promotion of an individualist ethic, but most importantly the proliferation of debt based consumerism as the principle form of legitimation” - I don’t see that these necessarily contradict what the ICC has said but could be seen as additional, supplementary factors whose weight must certainly be considered.

However I do note that when JK talks of the “collapse of working class identity” or the “individualist ethic” or even of “consumerism” he is in many senses dealing with and delving into the same realm of ‘ideas’ of ‘false consciousness’, of ‘sociological concepts’ - in short, the dominant ideas of the ruling class – that he elsewhere says are inadequate to explain the proletariat’s retreat.

No-one, I believe, is arguing that the dominant ideology is the sole explanation for the hesitations of the working class – at root, these stem from the proletariat’s unique nature as a revolutionary class which is also an exploited class with no economic basis in capitalist society. And as was argued at the LDoD, the struggle of the working class was never, ever, easy, straightforward, going from success to success.

The working class struggle has its own dynamic: the relative lull in class struggle (relative that is to the previous waves of 1968-1985 but also relative to the deepening attacks on its material conditions of existence) can also be explained in a material way: after 20 years of strikes, attempts to defend living standards, and to ‘demand the impossible’, the workers pause to ask why they have gained nothing and indeed are more impoverished than when they started!! As JK argued on a different thread, to continue to execute the same action time after time, and to expect a different result, is one definition of madness!!!

Nonetheless, these deliberations of the proletariat don’t exist in a vacuum. On the one hand, material reality deteriorates. On the other, bourgeois ideology, in whose miasma we all exist, at every twist and turn, confronts any attempt to clarify reality and to forge a path ahead. In this sense, as the ICC said at the time, in collapsing in a sudden, unforeseen manner, Stalinism, one of the gravediggers of the proletariat, performed one last service to the bourgeoisie. For me, it was like the ascent to power in Britain in 1987 of ‘New Labour’ after 18 years of Tory rule – “things can only get better” – combined with the election, in America, after the years of Bush Snr and Jnr, of Obama, the US’s first black President, a liberal, a democrat, the bearer of so many hopes... Only worse. The ‘end of history’. The triumph of democracy. All the stuff that Baboon mentioned in his posts. Struggle! Why struggle? Good times are ahead, new markets opening up. An end to tyranny, everywhere...

Of course the ruling class had already taken steps to combat the proletarian menace announced by 1968. Of course they didn’t invite the Soviet Union to collapse in order to confront the working class. But it happened, and they used it to good effect, to reinforce not just an absence of perspective, or of a need to struggle, but of collective, independent thinking and action itself!

‘You’re just saying the workers have “the wrong ideas in their heads.” It’s condescending when it’s not downright substitutionist.’ I don’t know precisely where this put-down of any references to bourgeois ideology (or the question of consciousness in general!) comes from – though I have my suspicions - but one wonders why Marx spent so much time and effort locating the source of everyday ideas in the ‘dominant, ruling ideology’; why he talked of ‘traditions’ weighing like ‘nightmares’ and other manifestations of ‘wrong ideas’ bearing down on humanity. Why Lenin spoke of no revolution without revolutionary ‘theory’ or Marx, again, talking about theory becoming a ‘material force’ when it’s embraced and embellished by the masses and their movement. Consciousness as material force...

Again, I don’t want to simply repeat old dogma, to ignore real changes in the material situation of the proletariat or of capitalist society. We should examine these changes (the ICT, for example, says than 2 billion new workers have been created in the ‘East’ (2)) in greater depth than hitherto. But the debt flow which allowed for an illusionary ‘consumerism’ is long gone.

And to ask if the current movements of social revolt depart from, rather than illustrate and confirm, our current analyses is to forget the difficult trajectory ploughed by the proletarian struggle, the power of nationalism and the decades-old lies about the disappearance of the working class (as mentioned by Baboon in his reference to Marcuse). IMO.

Finally: on the origins of decomposition. The ICC said this was/is the result of a social blockage, of a stalemate between the two major classes. The bourgeoisie, driven towards war, was unable to mobilise an undefeated proletariat: the proletariat, for its part, was unable to impose its own perspective on events. Meanwhile, the crisis deepened, society deteriorated, decomposed. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the first noticeable manifestation of this ‘rotting on its feet’ phenomenon of capitalist society. (With hindsight, one could say Iran after the departure of the Shah, preceded it – only a regressive clerical faction could hold the country together). For the proletariat, ruin beckons even if it is not actively mobilsed behind the bourgeoisie. To do nothing implies the “ruin of the contending classes.”

In this sense, at a global level, the proletarian class struggle, the motor force of history, is in part responsible for the collapse of the USSR in as much that its mobilisation (and in particular the struggle in Poland 1980) and its persistent refusal to be drawn behind bourgeois aims, on a global historic level, has led to this impasse (just as its present weakness has prevented the emergence of any alternative).

Sorry for the ramble...

 

(1) https://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/201304/7382/editorial-scientific-advances-and-decomposition-capitalism

(2) The creation of ‘2 billion new workers’ has to be verified. And measured against the global increase in population (to gauge whether the workers are becoming a larger or smaller part of society. And these ‘new workers’ must also be relitavised: the Chinese peasants marched from the countryside to erect structures for the Beijing Olympics, 2008, were summarily sent home to misery and unemployment after their task was completed. Hardly an integration into the world economy.  

jk1921
I think the responses to my

I think the responses to my inquiries here, particularly from Baboon, are why some find it so frustrating to discuss with the ICC (and/or its close sympathizers). I thought I had made it clear enough in my posts that I was not actually taking the positions I was stating, but attempting to work through how others would try to answer some of these questions differently, while still staying inside the left communist tradition.

I can accept that some of the fault lies with me in not making this clearer, but I am not sure how many qualifiers, hedges and scare quotes I can put in a post without tending towards centrism (joke!). Still, I think Baboon's response illustrates a tendency to look at discussion (I won't even use the word "debate," because that would imply a worked out position) as an adversarial contest between opposed camps rather than an honest exploration of ideas-- the goal of which becomes eradication of an opponent. Some of the things Baboon upbraids me for are quite surprising to me. Its "irresponsible" to not take the actions of the bourgeoisie into account? The only "responsibility" I have is to ask questions when things don't make sense. And it doesn't make sense to me that a campaign about the death of communism can be the primary reason why the working class has been quiet, when the working class never struggles for communism until a much later stage in the revolutionary process. There is a logical contradiction here. Of course, I said I was open to being convinced I was wrong on that, but instead of convincing, I seemed to get a lashing.

Moreover, the comrade attacks me for "making up" the ICC's position. First, I never said what the ICC's position was (or what it thinks it is). But I think this line illustrates some of the central problems with the approach to discussion that all too often prevails in the milieu. Its as if I am imagined as the leader of some tendency or fraction that must know what the ICC said in 1987 about something. I am sorry comrades, I do not have all of this info at my disposal. I have a vague recollection that some of the issues I am raising recapitulate older debates (perhaps even as far back as the KAPD). This why I asked if they were reminiscent of some of the things that the ICT, IP etc. have said in criticism of the ICC. Nobody answered. But anyway, that is the extent of my knowledge on these things vague remberances of bits and pieces of texts already years old when I read them . I wasn't there to experience the debates that led to the formation of the EFICC, etc. I simply don't have the context, even if I have read some of it.

Comrades of the ICC (and close sympathizers from decades back)--you are the organization here. It is your "responsibility" to convince me. You are the ones with the resources of an organizational memory, regular collective discussion and decades of experience. Outside of this forum, I only have four wall to discuss with.

But as long as we are on the topic of "responsibility;" a rather well-versed individual once told me that the entire concept of responsibilty is foreign to Marxism. I had no idea what he meant, but now I am intrigued to find out.

In regards to KT's quoting the ICT as saying 2 billion new worker have been created in the East. Well, this is the type of thing that at first take seems to cause problems for decadence theory. This simply shouldn't be happening under decadence. That sounds like qualitative social development. I know there are probably ways to reconcile that with decadence that may be right. I can guess at what some of them may be in general terms. But I am going to struggle with those facts. I am sorry if that upsets old certitudes, but wouldn't it be better to convince rather than head for the barricade?

commiegal
Well until last year I'd

. sorry, again! 

baboon
the collapse of "communism"

If I offended you with a tad too polemical tone jk, then I can only apologise. It wasn't my intention to lay into you but to defend a position with rigour.

In several places above you indeed suggest that the campaign around the "death of communism" did have a significant impact on the workers' struggle but you pose the question about the veracity of that analysis because you wanted a marxist/left communist approach to the last two-and-a-half decades of class struggle. That's what I tried to provide and tried to provide in more detail in my contribution to the day of discussion.

You also say that the "so-called 'death of communism' can only have an impact on workers' struggles if workers are already to a significant degree considering communism". A couple of times you  make the suggestion that it is the ICC's position that the workers must know what real communism is before it can develop its communist perspective. Now a position that suggests, intimates, is "maybe it does, maybe it doesnt', is perfectly valid of course in any discussion but don't complain if the same discussion puts forward a definite positon - and there's nothing personal in this (I, and I'm sure others, value your contribution here). The ICC has never, anywhere, today or yesterday, put forward a position that the working class must be communist in order to become communist. I've only seen such an absurd position in the last couple of weeks expressed on here by L Bird.

You say that the import of the ideological weight of the bourgeoisie is "idealist". The importance of this weight of the organisation and machiavellianism of the ruling class is a fundamental position of the ICC that I would defend. I would also defend it against the accusations of "idealism" from the ICT and anyone else as an irresponsible attitude neglecting the "other side" of the class struggle, a side which revolutionaries have a responsibility to analsye and on which to take a position. But you go further than this and suggest that behind this "idealism" there is "a certain lingering substitutionism behind this line of thinking" - which is not an accusation that should be thrown around lightly particularly given the decades of analysis on the lessons of the Russian revolution regarding class, party and state extensively and comprehensively covered by the ICC and its predecessors.

 

To try to clarify: The collapse of the USSR in 1989, was the most significant event of the international situation since the outbreak of World War II and absolutely demanded analysis from revolutionary elements from the very beginning. From this I thought it important to confront the position - however confusingly expressed - that the ICC's position on the collapse of the USSR was that only workers with a communist perspective can become communist. I don't know if I have put this position on the ICC's position accurately because I don't really understand it but I think that I do understand the ICC's positon about the development of consciousness in good part.

The "triumph of capitalism" of 1989 permeated every corner of the globe for a good time and in doing so raised all the questions about the lessons of the Russian revolution and not just the nature of Stalinism's collapse - you can witness this with the continuing discussions within the milieu and certainly with anarchism and all its varieties. Next year is the hundredth anniversary of World War I which the bourgeoisie, as part of its ideological arsenal, will certainly be celebrating. It also sees the twenty-fifth anniversary  of the collapse of the eastern bloc, which the bourgeoisie will probably keep comparitively quiet about given what we know about the capitalist "peace and prosperity" promised to us in the wake of the 1989 collapse.

The bourgeoisie has moved on from the latter, drawn a line under it, as it says and moved on, adapted to more campaigns. But the essence of the victory of capitalism has been maintained by its class - how could it be any other? Today its not to celebrate victory over the communist enemy, but how to reorganise capitalism, how to reform it and get it running more efficiently, how to get rid of its "bad" aspects. And in fact, within this, the Russian enemy is now considered to be - or was until very recently - a new, expanding market, one of the BRIC's even.

But "socialism", "communism", "workers power", is still very much asssociated in the propaganda of the bourgeoisie to the whole Russian event and from that its collapse in 1989. Even if this was the latest event, its collapse in fact, the bourgeoisie still profits from and promotes the idea that Russia after 1917 communism was established and persisted. The other side of this argument is the ideology of democracy, that there's only democracy, support for democratic movements and the democratic state.

The campaigns around the "death of communism", of 1989, are being used up, but the campaign against the working class, the campaign for democracy is in full swing. It took the communist left a long time and much effort to analyse the lessons of the Russian revolution and its defeat and there are undoubtedly lessons that can be deeped today. There are still major divisions with the proletarian camp about proletarian revolution = stalinism  and the bourgeoisie still promotes the idea that  collapse of stalinism = the end of proletarian revolution and these confusions are still generated by bourgeois ideology as a matter of course.

 

Link
USSR

 

Baboon has just backtracked a little but nevertheless I want to start of with an agreement with jk1921 about the reactions to discussions.  I don’t know about overall but certainly in this thread the responses to questions and discussion has been rather defensive and adversarial as jk suggests

My starting points in this thread was about the collapse of USSR and its impact on subsequent events.

I am  lucky enough to be doing a summary for the mornings discussion and from Lonelondoner contribution it would appear he was saying that the types of struggles we are seeing in recent years are different to the factory based struggles of the 60-80 strike wave because of the impact of the collapse of the USSR.  I would still like to hear from Lonelonder to clear things up but that is not quite what I understood he was saying at the time, so I am sorry to have confused things here.  This idea seems reasonable to expect such a major event to have some sort of impact and the bourgeois has certainly made ideological use of the failure of communism in USSR.  However I cant help feeling there are other factors involved here too.  In Europe because of the apparent weakness of economic struggle and the ongoing identification of China as communist yet successful economically.  There have been significant factory based struggles in many countries in Asia but the more recent examples in Middle East and Brazil have clearly started away from factories  and in the streets and been based on more general social issues.  I cant see the collapse of USSR as THE factor in current struggles therefore

On the issue of the cause of collapse of the USSR, it become more confusing.  It seems to me that the criticisms of what i said just repeated my meaning in different words.  So there now appears to be a general agreement and an acceptance of my original suggestion that the economic weakness and the lack of digital technological (meaning that it could not afford to compete militarily with the west from then on) led to the collapse of the USSR.   

Can I ask comrades to explain what other factors are involved though cos i wouldnt try to argue that nothing else is involved.  The only suggestion has been debt and bureaucracy.  Debt on its own is not enough though as it’s a very common phenomenon for the B: there has to be a context or a trigger which makes the situation critical enough for a bloc to dissolve itself. 

 

baboon
collapse

The collapse of the USSR was the product of its economic and military inferiority faced with its adversary in the western bloc. That I think we can agree on.

Very early on, after the revolution and at the beginning of the counter-revolution in Russia, the bourgeoisie in Russia was made up of a party/state parasitic bureaucracy that took control of the economy. The conditions for the emergence of a "private" bourgeoisie were physically wiped out as state capitalism in Russia took on a totalitarian and caricatural form. Every capitalist state has parasitic sectors but, as we can see today, state capitalism everywhere is not averse to the existence of private sectors or of competition within the state which, amongst other things, keeps these parasitic sectors under control and in their place. The parasitic bourgeoisie in Russia was only concerned with filling its own pockets and this aberration continued to undermine the Russian state as the economic crisis worsened.

Like Rome, Russian imperialism had extended itself too far and the maintenance of its military bloc, the subbsidies it had to pump into its satellites for little return also served to drag the empire down. It also had to maintain standing armies and forces of repression in its satellites in order to confront the working class and to oversee its puppet governments. This was a totally different kettle of fish to the western bloc and the USA's domination over it.

As the economic crisis sharpened by the mid-80's, the Russian bourgeoisie attempted to halt the implosion under the heading of "perestroika" (restructruing) introduced by the Gorbachov regime but this was too little, too late and probably exacerbated the collapse as the Russian economy floundered trying to adapt to full-blown capitalist competition.

The centrifugal tendencies common to decomposition overtook the weak economy of Russia and its bloc. Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania and many other centres of proletarian struggle - not to mention Russia itself - were pacified by democracy and nationalism. The heights of class struggle in Poland 1980 fell into the nadir of a religious, nationalist, trade union government of Solidarnosc in 1989. Not only was class struggle not at all a factor in this implosion, any possible expression of it was drowned in a sea of flag-waving and colour-waving nationalism. Elements of these effects continue today as does the bourgeoisie's constant refrain, ready to be polished up at any time, of the identification of the Bolsheviks, Lenin and the October revolution with the existence and collapse of Stalinism.

Alf
cause and effect

Link argues that there is: "a general agreement and an acceptance of my original suggestion that the economic weakness and the lack of digital technological (meaning that it could not afford to compete militarily with the west from then on) led to the collapse of the USSR".

I think that the problem with the way you originally formulated this is that you seemed, to some of us at least, to be giving at least equal weight to these two factors, even suggesting that the technological factor was primary, rather than being a product of the eastern bloc's irresolvable and historic economic weakness. Baboon points to some of the other products of this weakness which exacerbated it still further: the parasitic and short-sighted character of the ruling class; the fact that the Stalinist system could only maintain itself through direct military repression, and so on.     

baboon
Same tendencies

Above we've tried to look at some of the specifics of the USSR which resulted in the collapse of this weaker imperialist bloc. But, and I underline this, with all due caution and qualifications, we can see exactly the same tendencies still present in the capitalist world and particularly weighing on the USA as the only remaining superpower: deepening economic crisis; decomposition, centrifugal forces and tendencies to breaking apart in important areas of the globe; corruption, mercenary armies, the necessity to maintain occupation zones with boots on the ground, puppet governments, fortresses and massive resources for surveillance, spying, intelligence and repression; an insane arms race.

The USA isn't about to collapse in the same way as Russia but the tendencies which provoked the collapse of the latter are still very much at work.

KT
Response to JK

JK1921 wrote:

“And it doesn't make sense to me that a campaign about the death of communism can be the primary reason why the working class has been quiet, when the working class never struggles for communism until a much later stage in the revolutionary process. There is a logical contradiction here. Of course, I said I was open to being convinced I was wrong on that, but instead of convincing, I seemed to get a lashing.”

My apologies if I have in anyway wielded the whip to apply this ‘lashing’. Not my intention towards a fellow communist and ICC sympathiser.

Now: no-one is saying – has said – “that a campaign about the death of communism can be the primary reason why the working class has been quiet.” In answer to query about what effect the collapse of the old eastern bloc had on the subsequent period of working class struggles, the previous contributions from Baboon and I affirmed that it had a negative impact and gave some elements supporting our arguments. I stand by these points. I think they are important. But to repeat, no-one is saying they were the only or even the main reason for the ‘difficulties’ experienced by the working class.

There’s so much more to be developed here: for example how the collapse impacted on the class struggle in terms of nationalism and the mobilisation for local and regional wars of the upmost importance. The collapse of the eastern bloc led to the dissolution of the western bloc too. Led to the current phase of ‘everyman for himself’ in imperialist relations. Led to Croatia’s push to break away from a decaying Yugoslavia; to the horrific ‘Balkan’ wars, ethnic cleansing and the bombing of Belgrade. Led to the sole remaining superpower, the US, using it’s attack on Iraq in the ‘shock and awe’ slaughter of the first Gulf War...All this was, the ICC has argued, a consequence of the collapse of the eastern bloc. All this negatively impacting on the material reality and consciousness of the proletariat in the ensuing period... None of it directly linked to any ‘campaign’ about the death of the old bloc but to the material consequences of it.

JK Wrote: In regards to KT's quoting the ICT as saying 2 billion new worker have been created in the East. Well, this is the type of thing that at first take seems to cause problems for decadence theory. This simply shouldn't be happening under decadence. That sounds like qualitative social development. I know there are probably ways to reconcile that with decadence that may be right. I can guess at what some of them may be in general terms. But I am going to struggle with those facts. I am sorry if that upsets old certitudes, but wouldn't it be better to convince rather than head for the barricade?

I entirely agree with you that such a figure, if substantiated, is important. It was with you and your concern with the ‘sociological recomposition’ of the working class in mind that I plucked this statement from hours of discussion. I don’t think it undermines the reality of decadent capitalism either, but hopefully, in the near future, we and other communists can work together in helping to explain why.

Fraternally, KT

Link
collapse

 

Alf,  fair enough in what you say and there is clearly a lot of agreement here.  I think i would continue to put stress on the lack of technology as a key factor (in context of the military and economic weakness of course)  because it seems to me this was the additional factor in the late 1980s.  Baboon makes the point above that many of the other factors mentioned of debt, cost of supporting satellite countries and bureaucracy were already existing problems for the Soviet Union if not for the West.   Had these problems been exacerbated  during the 1980s?  I don’t know the answer to that but I would have thought that something had to have changed to bring about the collapse.  For a military power bloc to collapse unexpectedly it needed a new factor to act as a trigger?  Digital technology, unaffordable because of the weight of previous military spending, was, as I say, a new factor in that period and hence had I think a big impact. 

In terms of the discussion about the impact of the collapse.   I do not think I would have stressed the impact of the collapse as a major ideological tool for the B and whilst I would still argue the importance of limitations felt on economic struggles, but I am persuaded I was not giving it enough importance.   

From my experience of visiting East Germany, the workers there are now quite unenthralled by their experience of western capitalism.  I have heard it be said by more than one that the only gains made by opening up to the west was the freedom to travel.  I do think actually that this underestimates some of the benefits they gained eg consumer products – one noticeable change in the early 1990s was the number of western cars in East Germany.  Over here, we might stress how horrible the communist state was but workers there do not necessarily accept all they find in the west.  Does this support you argument or not?  I always saw it as a national perspective - workers all over the world are simply used to and accept as normal the conditions in which they are brought up.  Western propaganda about the horrors of communism was and is still not accepted as a clear cut argument by eastern bloc workers.

In part this suggests then that the collapse of the eastern bloc must also cause ideological problems for the B as for eastern bloc workers are seeing the limitations of western, free market capitalism. 

I cant quite work out who said what on the point about job creation in the East (or in the USSR bloc) but it is a similar point and something I raised in the day of discussion itself.  We cannot rule out specific improvements in conditions or period of general improvements because it is decadence  and because the overall trend must be downwards.  The workers in the Eastern bloc suffering turmoil, increased unemployed and job turnover  yet they also experienced an influx of retail firms from the west, a significant increase in consumer goods and services available, and an increase in jobs if the stats about 2million jobs created are correct.  One of the problems experienced in East Germany is that most employers  from the pre 1989 era have disappeared to be replaced by new business and inward investments – maybe that is how the figure for new job creation is so high!!

Fred
Link wrote  Quote: From my

Link wrote  

Quote:
 From my experience of visiting East Germany, the workers there are now quite unenthralled by their experience of western capitalism.  I have heard it be said by more than one that the  only gains made by opening up to the west was the freedom to travel.  I do think actually that this underestimates some of the benefits they gained eg consumer products – one noticeable change in the early 1990s was the number of western cars in East Germany.  Over here, we might stress how horrible the communist state was but workers there do not necessarily accept all they find in the west.  Does this support you argument or not?  I always saw it as a national perspective - workers all over the world are simply used to and accept as normal the conditions in which they are brought up.  Western propaganda about the horrors of communism was and is still not accepted as a clear cut argument by eastern bloc workers.
 

 

Is "freedom to travel" a genuine "freedom" - or just a concession from the B which is difficult to enjoy unless you're monied and have lots of "free" time.  Is having "consumer goods" flaunted in your face a real benefit  or just a mockery of your enslaved condition?  Oh WOW!  They've now got WESTERN  cars for sale in the former East  Germany. What a breakthrough for the working class! They'll be queuing up to buy them, and'll be feeling just as "free" as their comrades lucky enough to be exploited in the West where consumer goods grow on trees.   And then we're told  that "workers all over the world are simply used to and accept as normal the conditions in which they are brought up."   Oh really!?  The bourgeoisie will be delighted to hear it.  It's surprising nobody's thought of this before as it's the solution to all capitalism's woes.  Workers accept and love, and even enjoy being exploited and screwed, and wouldn't give it up for anything else under any circumstances. Not even for a new car, a "free" health service, free schooling of quality, free council housing, and free burials when your time comes to finally bid farewell to the bourgeois paradise that has cosseted you in your slave condition all your life.  What a load of bollocks this all is!  Workers rejoice!  Just accept your miserable plights and all will be well. Just accept your extremely underprivileged upbringing as normal - its your own fault anyway for being born working class - and don't envy the rich - and all will be well. At least for the bourgeoisie.   If all this were true, which happily it isn't, then we would have to wonder how anyone came to consider any alternative to this wonderful bourgeois society at all. Let alone communism. 

baboon
non-adversarial

I don't think I'm being adversarial when I say that, to me at least, there still appears to be a clear difference of opinion with Link and the position I and others defend. Link says that there must have been a new factor to cause the sudden collapse of the USSR and he clearly states that the absence of digital technology is that new factor. I don't agree with this for all the reasons above and see this aspect as completely secondary and emanating from more profound reasons (as above). The exacerbation of the situation of Russia which  resulted in its collapse was the intensification of the economic crisis which hit the USSR particularly hard. Though short in historical terms there was a long period of "collapse" from 1985 to 89 during which the Russian bourgeoisie tried to "open up" and these attempts themselves also contributed to the eventual collapse.

Link
Response to Baboon

I am not sure about a clear difference because i do think there is plenty of agreement here only certain sticking points.  Its true you are once again disagreeing that the lack of uptodate military technology did not cause the USSR  problems in the 1980s.  I would argue it was  clearly a new factor in the 1980s (I cant work out whether you think this is true or not true as you said both) and had a significant impact on developments in the USSR

I agree that the basic cause of the collapse is the crisis in capitalism and its particular manifestations in the eastern bloc.  Is this sufficient however?  What I would like to ask (again) is for a clear explanation of what is being said to be the factors causing the collapse of USSR.   Debt and bureacracy  are of course present and i am quite happy to agree that these problems were accumulating (as they are for all economies) but you say that there 'was an intensification of economic crisis which hit the USSR'  Have you got figures to support this please because i was not aware of this - ill see what i can find out myself too. 

I fail to see that an inability to develop military technology (and technological development is after all is an essential element of capitalist accumulation - and in the 1980s this meant digital and perhaps materials technology)  is not significant and would not have a major impact on a bloc such as the USSR which depended on its military might to compete with the west.  Even if it is just the straw that breaks the camels back it must still be significant to the timing of the collapse.

Lastly if the same forces that finished off the eastern bloc are at work in the USA and the west, why do you not expect a repeat elsewhere?  

Link
Mmmm thought-provoking Fred

 

I wont repeat the thought but I would like to repeat part of something you said to me a while ago:

'First comrade Link thank you for responding in such an open, frank, honest and friendly way, and not talking down to me in a condescending and patronizing manner,'

Shame you cant return the favour and discuss properly. 

jk1921
I apologize in advance for

I apologize in advance for the length of this post:

I don't want to turn this into a "culture of debate" thread (and again, I would use "discussion" instead of "debate"), but I think a few more words are necessary here. I fully accept that I may at times confuse comrades when I try to assume another's position in working through ideas, but if you go back and look at what I posted, I think it should be clear that I am not actually defending the arguments I was stating, only exploring them as an alternative. I think this helps me get a grip on controversies, but I understand how it could be confusing. For this, I apologize.

That said, I think Baboon's response was far too confrontational for what we are, or should, be doing on this forum. But whatever my quips with Baboon's style, let me be clear I think that his substantive contributions to discussions are immense and of top quality, even when I am not totally convinced by them. Still, this isn't the International Conferences of the early 80s. As far as I can tell, this forum consists of ICC comrades, some longer term sympathizers and a group of newer "searching elements" who want to explore ideas with the ICC. Although I may have been around the ICC for some time, and while I have a certain familarity with its positions and "modes of analysis," I would count myself in this latter group.

There can at times, I think, be a cultural disconnect between these various elements here. There appears to me to be a style of discussion that evidences a kind of "aura of certainty" among the more experienced (I won't say older!) comrades that does not link up very well with a looser, more tentative and cautious approach to issues evidenced by the newer elements. Where as the more experienced comrades "defend positions," the searching elements "explore ideas." These metaphors are not perfect, not everyone fits these caricatures completely or even mostly,  but they sum up, I think, some of the main problems the exisiting organization of the communist left face today in linking up with searching elements (See the Red Marx fourm). Of course, this situation is not unique to the ICC--the ICT is much worse on these matters in my experience. My goal in pointing this out here is not to divide up the forum into camps; nevertheless, I think some care should be taken to remain aware of these differences. We aren't all as comfortable operating in the idiom of the milieu and it can be quiet difficult to know what to do with the passionate certainty that comrades can have about some issues we may not understand well or have questions about.

Now on to substance: I think the discussion so far, far beyond the specific question of the campaign around the "death of communism," underscores a more fundamental problem. We have no clear theory of ideology. We seem to use it in a particular sense as "mystification"--Workers are mystified (I can only assume this means "deceived") by bourgeois ideas and therefore do not act in accordance with their sociological position as the productive/revolutionary class. The problem with this approach is that we never explain why workers are consistently mystified by ideas that do not link up with their objective sociological position. When pressed, we have a tendency to retreat to the old dictum, "the ruling ideas of any period are the ideas of the ruling class." This may be true, but it explains very little. How does this happen? By what mechanism do worker's cling to ideas that don't fit their objective conditions? Is there just a "gap" or a "lag" or is there something different at work here? Do we need psychoanalysis to get to the root of it? It seems that one could make a materialist analysis (Once again, I am not doing this) that says if the working class is objectively ready for revolution then no ideological campaign can stand in the way. The "false" ideas will melt away with material necessity. This may be vulgar materialism, I am not sure, but I can see the argument being made.

It turns out that there is at least one other way of conceptualizing "ideology" within the Marxist tradition that is different from the "mystification" thesis (or what I may have, in my attempts to understand this, dismissively called the "wrong ideas" thesis). In this view, ideology is in some way "functional." The ideas that people carry around in their heads somehow reflect or fit their sociological/material condition. They reproduce capitalist society, not by "tricking," or "deceiving" the working class, but because these ideas express in some way the objective position the class finds itself in at a given time. Ideas (consciousness) only change when material conditions change. Thus, the fact that the working class has been quiet for the last twenty-five years reflects something objective about its conditions, not that it has been "tricked" into not overthrowing capitalism by an ideological campaign. It is simply not objectively ready to challenge the ruling ideas; the ruling ideas in some way fit, and thus reproduce, its position. 

I think it is pretty clear that the the ICC tends to use the concept of ideology in the sense of "deception," which is where the charge of idealism must come from. Once again, I am not sure of this, but I think this has been a critique of the ICT for quite some time (and perhaps IP?). But it is not just these organizations of the milieu that come away with this "sense." I know several individuals, who have never even heard of the ICT or IP, who react this way to ICC analyses. The ICC is too "conspiracist," they say. I am not saying I agree with any of this. But if the ICC does not accept these charges, it still has to ask itself why so many people tend to get this impression?

Then comes that awesome paragraph in the Turkish comrade's recent text, which seems to me to break some ground on these issues. They seem to ground the continuing appeal of the democratic illusion to the objective situation of the working class today, without giving up the critique of this illusion, by conceeding that it is purely functional. "False" ideas can emerge from objective material conditions, but still be "false" in terms of the "needs" of the moment. I thought this was really impressive, even if it needs more development.

So, there is more than one way to conceive of "ideology" within Marxism. One that is grounded in a science/falsehood distinction and that leads to the idea of "false consciousness." This seems to be how the ICC uses it. The problem with this view is that it has a hard time explaining why the working class continues to hold "false" ideas for so long, why it is so easily and consistently fooled or just how the working class can transcend the falsehoods. If material conditions are not laying bare reality, what is holding things back? If the ruling ideas are always the ideas of the ruling class, how do we get out of this maze? Do we need a revolutionary party to tell workers the sceintifically right thing to do and ideas to hold? (echoes of LBird here).

Then there is another view that sees ideology as a more functional expression of objective sociological/material circumstances. In this meaning, ideas (consciousness) fits material conditions. If the working class is not revolutionary at any given moment, it can only mean that objective conditions are not revolutionary. Luckacs defended a version of this position and, actually so did Lenin. It also shows up in many of the ideas expressed by LBird here over the last several months. Of course, the problem with this version is that it tends towards an over-functionalism (and I am wondering if there is a connection to the more functionalist analyses the ICT tends to make of things like union busting, etc.?) It is not clear that it is even appropriate to call ideas "false." Its not so much the ideas that are false, as it is the objective conditions. This leads to a kind of wait and see approach, wherein things can only ever be as they are, because ideas, consciounsess, the overall situation cannot but reflect the underlying material reality. This view tends to be Panglossian.

Of course, however much the ICC tends towards understanding ideology as "mystification", this kind of Panglossian approach also comes through in some of its analyses I think, i.e. the small size of the communist left only reflects the objective difficulties of the class. Communist ideas do not have a broader resonance today, because the class is not there yet, etc. I am not sure if there is a contradiction here; or if I am just tending towards too Manichean a view, but this is striking to me. Are these two poles mutually exclusive. It does seem that historically they have tended to blend into one another, or one side had emerged at one time, but then quickly back into the other. For example, Pannekoek and Gorter's analysis of the failure of the revolutionary was that the Western working class was too beholden to bourgeois democracy due to some kind of "spiritual" attachment to these ideas. The ideas in the minds of workers did not match the historical tasks of the moment and thus the revolution failed. The Western working class would have to struggle to overcome this attachment, so it is best that communists not do anything (like participating in parliament) to reinforce these "bad ideas." Of course, Michels might have argued (would have to go back and read to be sure) at the time that the attachment to democratic ideas only reflected the material reality of social democracy's objective bureacratization and incorporation into the state. Still, flash forward about a decade and a half and Pannekoek is now arguing that the Russian Revolution could only have failed because of the objective conditions in Russia and he is upbraiding Lenin for not understanding that ideas arise out of their social context, i.e. the rise of idealism in late nineteenth century bourgeois though reflected that classes' historic decline and it was not, therefore possible, to win an intellectual battle with it, only to change the social conditions that produce it.

I may not have done the best job explaining all this and there be even more ways of understanding "ideology" than I have laid out here. I may have missed things the various organizations have written on all of this. But regardless, these are some of the ideas that are swirling around in my head as I reacted to the idea (perhaps mistakenly) that the ideological campaign around the "death of communism" was the primary reason why the working class has been quiet for the last two and a half decades. I hope this puts it in some perspective.

As to Baboon's assertion about "forgetting the other side of the class struggle."  I think the bourgeoisie can do whatever it wants in terms of an ideologcial campaign as some kind of prophylactic against class struggle, but this doesn't mean that it is this campaign which is actually keeping the class struggle down. One can be exposed to Anthrax and take Cipro as a prophylactic, but if one doesn't get sick this doesn't necessarily mean that the Cipro actually killed any bacteria. It could just be that you weren't actually infected after all. Nobody is forgetting that the bourgeoisie can and will inject itself into the class struggle in this way, or actually use ideology as a tool--but the fact that the bourgeoisie actually did launch a campaign about the death of communism does not mean that this necessarily explains the history of the last twenty five years or even that is has anything to do with it at all. This still needs to be demonstrated somehow.

Personally, and again I am not sure about anything at this stage, I think that reality is probably somewhere between these two poles. It is probably true that at a basic level class struggle is a reaction to local, economic issues regarding the standard of living--ideology about abstract political/philosophical issues plays very little role in this "spontaneous struggle," but as the struggle develops, as a process of SMC takes place, the role of ideology in the class struggle (Baboon's "other side of the class stuggle") CAN in fact become important in the contestation between the classes. The question for me is: where are we today? Where does the ICC think we are today? Are we at that very basic level of recovery of the struggle in the face of difficult objective conditions or is the working class essentially intact as it was at the end of Fordism in the early 80s and it is really these Machiavellian ideological campaigns about democracy, etc. that are mucking up the waters? I won't pretend to have a definitive answer about all of this; nor do I see any reason why I should or must at this stage.

Of course none of this means that there is a rejection of the capacity of the working class to struggle or even a rejection of the idea that there is a historic course towards more struggles (but of what kind?). What it is means is that there is a lot of confusion about what the conditions of that struggle are today. How much can the old model of the mass strike really help us understand what is happening today? Will we even see mass strikes? If so, where? In China? What is the relationship between these social movements we are seeing today and mass strikes? Are they prefiguartive forms or do they represent something new? I don't know the answer, but I know I am not the only one asking these kinds of questions.

baboon
discussion

Link, I don't see anything wrong with saying that we have a clear difference of analysis here on the specific causes of the collapse of the USSR - there's nothing wrong with this, it's not a major issue and hardly a "class line", but we should acknowledge that this difference has come, apart from one or two areas, from a good, positive discussion. On the specifics of the economic crisis of capitalism through the end of the 70's and the 80's, I would recommend the ICC Congress articles on the international situation published in the International Review. They can give much more detail than I can here. Yes, the same forces are at work on the USA and the west generally now that brought down the USSR but just as the specifics of the USSR was intimately involved in its collapse, then particular specifics will be at work in the post-two bloc system world. And the specifics of the collapse of the USSR has, to some extent, affected the situation for the rest of the world - growing decomposition for example.

Jk, good, thoughtful post. On just one immediate point that you raise: why does the ICC get the reaction that it does for its analysis of the machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie? To be honest, I can't answer that because I don't understand this reaction. I think it may be that it runs counter to everything about society that we are indoctrinated with from a very early age. For the ICT, the idea of the machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie is idealism, something not rooted in material reality. Yet, day in and day out we are confronted with absolute proof of the machiavellianism of the ruling class beyond anyone's dreams. The anarcho-syndicalists on libcom are a good example of this reaction. In response to putting a view, a world-view, that the bourgeoisie organise and plan then communist positions are then ridiculed as being part of an idea that lizards from outer-space are running the world. The abuse and piss-taking that I have received on libcom for suggesting that the bourgeoisie organise to confront the working class has been relentless for years and carries on today. It is an attack from anarchism on the defence of definite communist positions. Finally, there isn't (in my opinion) a working class racing towards communism but being diverted by bourgeoisie traps and manipulations. But there is a working class that is objectively the subject of revolution of which the bourgeoisie is very aware. That's why it has its trade unions, that's why it generates daily campaigns, that's why the whole state is dedicated to the defence of bourgeois order. It its main parts it is conscious of the danger to itself and wants to smother any attempt by the working class to express its own identity before it happens. I think that there is an enormous underestimation of the potential of the working class in underestimating the organisation of the bourgeoisie.

jk1921
Good post, Baboon. In

Good post, Baboon. You make a strong case. In general, I agree with you. Its interesting thoguh that there seems to be two trends in society right now--one towards total conspiracism in which it is never clear just what reality is and an opposing overreaction to anything that sounds remotely like a conspiracy theory. For me, this highlights the impasse of bourgeois thought. Still, it is tough to negotiate the two sides of this at times.

Fred
the impasse of bourgeois thought

Jk refers to "the impasse of bourgeois thought" , while baboon insists rightly on their machiavellianism, and the failure of the working class to properly appreciate  the conspiratorial side of their class enemy, who seem much more aware of potential class war than does the proletariat itself.  (This would appear to have nothing to do with the subject of this thread - but it was baboon who brought it up not me.) 

 

On the Hannah Arendt thread Jens brings up Arendt's point that the bourgeoisie has lost the capacity for thought - is this jk's "impasse" - so I wondered how we reconcile their intellectual impasse with their energetic pursuit of the Machiavellian approach? Is a commitment to the Machiavellian type of thought an overall loss for real creative thought, such as the bourgeois manifested in the 19th. Century? It could well be.  On the  Arendt  thread I suggested that the double whammy of the onset of decomposition and the defeat of the proletarian revolutionary wave (1917-23) - a defeat for the whole of humanity, including the bourgeoisie -  actually brought the bourgeoisie's capacity for useful creative thought to a dead end. I would cite the loss of their capacities in music and literature as evidence of this; plus Nazism;  movements towards overall  Totalitarianism as a political solution to economic problems;  and desperate attempts to make austerity stick today, including the dismantling of health care systems.  The bourgeoisie now have nothing positive going  for them  at all. 

 

This may appear to have messed up this thread completely. But it hasn't really. The impasse of bourgeois thought undoubtedly contributed to the fall of the USSR just as it will contribute to the difficulties of maintaining the outward rational appearance of a USA embroiled in political and economic turmoil.  This collapse of the bourgeoisie's capacity for rational thought, and the loss of their ability to discuss and ability even to try and sort out political issues either nationally or on an international scale, leaves them with only war, and their Machiavellian skills, as the remaining  weapons in their arsenal.  And their only prospect for any future.  They are doomed! 

Fred
Hi Comrade Link.  I take your

Hi Comrade Link.  I take your point.     (this is a reply to #23)