Communist Experience … III
Certainly Bolsheviks did not invent violence. Violence has been part of human history since time immemorial. It has been part of our progress through millions of years of evolution.
Violence has been a tool both for progress and regress in our history. Bolsheviks experimentation with “scientific socialism” was one of the episodes in our history where the violence took on an unprecedented scope. And at the end with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it did not have anything to show for it in terms of progress that the humanity could latch onto. The violence that they unleashed during their more than seven decades of rule is comparable to the violence of fascism in Europe. Many in the left like to see a qualitative distinction between the violence of the Bolsheviks and the Fascists. The fact that neither has anything to show for itself, in terms of the human progress, is the basic indication that there might not be a distinction. I believe there are deep historical reasons for their similarity which I will return to it later.
Let me return to the ideological split among the Bolsheviks for the moment. The idealists, Trotsky most well known among them, moved with the argument that, building of socialism in one country is not possible thus they tried to circumvent the idea of the NEP. This was nothing other than the extension of the Marx’s idea that socialism in one commune is not possible. The idealists repeated the same basic argument that Marx was advancing. This time they blamed the shortcomings of their adventure on world capitalism with a new title, “imperialism”. They said that the Soviet government resources should be diverted toward securing socialist victory in more advanced capitalist countries of Europe. They never found the opportunity to show what their thesis entailed in practice. They were voted out of the central committee of the Communist Party (new name for the Bolsheviks) and later expelled from the party and were suppressed. They followed the fate of the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries which they had participated in their suppression.
The more pragmatists, Stalin the most well known among them, moved with the idea of the extension of the NEP and building socialism in the Soviet Union. This was labeled as “socialism in one country” by some disdainful critics of Stalin. Stalin and his cohorts only needed to force the workers to march to the tune of the state plan. The forced labor would eventually raise the productivity level above and beyond the level of the capitalist countries and voila the socialism has proved itself to the world. This idea of building socialism on the back of workers, breaking the back of many of them, was a bit unorthodox. It did not quite fit into Marx’s vision of socialism. But if they could do it they were just extending Marx’s theory through practice, a new way of extending Marx’s vision. Even some in the West took the state planning in the Soviet Union seriously, thinking that in reality it could succeed. Majority of the left was already propagandizing the “giant gains” of the central planning in the Soviet Union, but it also took some roots among the spy agencies and thus they continuously proposed extensive counter measures to undermine the state planning in the communist countries particularly the Soviet Union. By the time of the Soviet demise enough evidence had accumulated that failure was inherent to the socialist project and it would have collapsed on its own. The system that the Bolsheviks initiated by force from Petrograd and expanded through civil war to the rest of the Russia and its territories, and later was extended to the Eastern Europe, blew apart through some simple reforms that Gorbachev initiated. At the end there was hardly anybody in the Soviet Union and its satellites that wanted to defend it.
The twist and turns of “scientific socialism” did not begin with the Bolsheviks implementation but it was already happening during Marx’s time. Marx which had begun with criticism of major philosophers with his materialist view of history summarized his views in the “Communist Manifesto” a detailed blueprint of a social transformation. With the Engels’s “The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844” they thought that they have drawn a convincing case for “scientific socialism”. They founded the First International and looked forward to the proletariat of the Europe to shed its chains. With the defeat of the short lived Paris Commune in 1871, it was clear that Marx’s proletariat is not ready. The continuous improvement of the workers living condition seemed to have made the Manifesto of 1848 irrelevant. Marx’s ultimate case for “scientific socialism” was the economic model that he had developed in the massive three volume collection called “Capital”. He believed that beyond any reasonable doubt he has proved his case. But Marx’s economic model was not convincing. During the 19th century Europe was bubbling with scientific and technical advances in physics, mechanics, chemistry, biology and psychology and many other fields. They all received attention but Marx isolated and penniless could not publish or sell his works. This is something he could not explain why the scientific community in Europe was ignoring his works. The only explanation that I could find was some disgruntled and disdainful passages in his letters. Late in his life his work caught the attention of the Russian Intelligentsia which led to some major socialist formations. But Marx could not explain why his “science” does not have any appeal in the most advanced countries with a much broader scientific community but it did in the much smaller and narrower Russian intelligentsia. Was his “scientific model” for communities which were mainly outside of capitalist sphere of development with lots of interest to block its penetration? I will return to this side of “scientific socialism” later.