The problems with the Soviet Union and the East Bloc began with their
opportunistic use of "democratic centralism," an oxymoron devised by
Lenin to justify a largely undemocratic rule by a central committee
which judged itself capable of sifting through what the people on the
bottom wanted without having to actually consult them. This is a
simplistic definition but it is essentially what it was and how it
worked. Rosa Luxemberg dissected this theory very nicely, and in so
doing, found herself isolated both before and after her murder at the
hands of the German Friekorps, because democratic centralism was at the
core of party rule.
To give an example of what happened, here is an excerpt from an article
by Arthur Starewicz, editor-in-chief of the journal, Polish
Perspectives, #5, published in March, 1981, (which I was fortunate
enough to purchase at the time from the estimable City Lights Book
Store). Starewicz writes:
"In theory the Political Bureau was elected by the Central Committee and
the Central Committee by Congress. In actual fact -- barring periods
of crisis --the ruling group chose those they considered appropriate to
sit on the Central Committee, and the Central Committee selected, with
the aid of the apparatus, suitable delegates for Congress. Thus
meetings of the Central Committee only very rarely provided an
opportunity for discussion of policy, and were usually called only to
gain formal acceptance of decisions which had already been taken and as
demonstrations of superficial unanimity and loyalty to the leadership.
The occasional speeches of a few 'licensed fools' were neither here nor
there; real differences of opinion were left on the doorstep.
"The party congresses, whose task is to lay down general guidelines,
were transformed into carefully stage-managed productions, all the
really important decisions having been taken before-hand. Exchanges of
opinion, criticism of mistakes, and real discussion simply died out. The
overall structure was one of commands issued under the cloak of unity
Starewicz made no reference to the prescience of Luxemberg who predicted
how democratic centralism would be perverted. While he was describing
the situation in Poland 20 years ago, I think what he had to say could
safely be used to understand what happened in the USSR and the other
nations in the Soviet Bloc.
While I understand that to the inhabitants of those countries, the
appeal of obtaining the goods that were available to capitalist
countries was considerable, but I think the role of market forces in
bringing down the USSR and its allies, was secondary to that of the
corruption of those societies brought about by the contradictions that
were clearly inherent in "democratic centralism."
Elmer Lightman wrote:
> I was a regular in Bill Mandel's KPFA audience for years. Taped the program
> for it's rare information. And I admire his mind. Coming upon the current
> dialogue, and the evolution in his views, I haven't seen addressed the
> answer to three points for which I've always faulted capitalism:
> 1) Waste. The enormous waste of resources in the production of redundant
> consumer products, the over production (the new proliferation "99c stores"
> to at least sell the left over stuff to someone rather than destroy it, is
> small relief--why didn't it cost 99cents in the first place?)
> 2) Immediate profit over any real interest in conserving dwindling
> resources for any future there might be. A society that planned for the
> future of the human race is what I'd hoped we'd get from the socialists, but
> did they even have that ethic?
> 3) Wasn't the Soviet Union's problem that it didn't have access to the
> world's resources the way the U.S. did (and secured with it's military)?
> Wasn't that a key reason USSR couldn't compete, notwithstanding any accuracy
> of the other reasons Bill gives? And for that matter isn't the lack of
> access to all the world's resources (and of course various social issues not
> to the direct point of this thread) the reason inhabitants of countries like
> Haiti emmigrate to the U.S.? The goodies are here, not the least of reasons
> being that whatever is there has been brought here to manufacture U.S.
> goodies out of. So: more goodies here, poverty there, people come here.
> Elmer LIghman
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Mon Jul 17 2000 - 19:57:10 CUT