From Marxism to Stalinism?

The notion that Russia was ready for a proletarian revolution in 1917 must have sounded odd to a serious Marxist of that time. I am no expert on Marxism — no Lee Harris — but Marxist logic implies, I think, that the further capitalism develops, the more acute society’s internecine conflicts grow, until at some point, with help from a revolutionary Party, the capitalist system self-destructs. An advanced stage of capitalism was a pre-requisite for a proletarian revolution. Russia had been growing by leaps and bounds before 1914 but it was still more agricultural than industrial, mostly populated by peasants in 1917. The necessary condition was clearly not met.

Russia may have been ready for a revolution but only for a “bourgeois-democratic” one that would remove institutional obstacles to capitalist development. This is what Russia’s moderate Marxists — Georgy “Georges” Plekhanov, Yuly Martov, Noy Zhordaniya, etc. — seemed to claim, and I’m going to agree. Marx would have had difficulty believing the first “Marxist” revolution would happen in Russia, much as he respected the courage of early, pre-Marxist Russian revolutionaries.

Lenin the theoretician had to be innovative to prove his radical points: he claimed that world capitalism had entered a new, “imperialist” stage, which required a reassessment of the way the doctrine was applied to the real world. Both this claim and the Bolsheviks’ seizing power in October 1917 explicitly in the name of a proletarian revolution, qualified Leninism as a Marxian heresy — a term that reminds me of a recent discussion at Cella’s Review of, among other things, Islam as a Christian heresy: Marxism, as I like to repeat, was a quasi-religion to lots of its adepts.

Let me digress now and remind the readers that the USSR and the PRC had a major relationship problem from the 1960s to the 1980s. Soviet Sinologists were instructed to criticize the Cultural Revolution and Maoism in general, both its Eastern and Western varieties — but to do so from an orthodox Marxist standpoint. What irony! Was it possible to denounce the Great Leap Forward and Fire on the Headquarters leaving unscathed the Stalinist experiment, to use a euphemism? Soviet “political observers” would pick for their propaganda the most repellent cases from Chinese life — invariably, these turned out grotesquely deformed but recognizable reflections of Soviet life under Stalin and, sometimes, even under his heirs. The songwriting campaign alone was worth a million words.

(To be continued.)

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