Note on the end of the USSR

Clara Figueiredo, untitled, essay Filmes Vencidos_Digitized analog photography, Moscow, 2016


Considerations about the 30 years of capitalist restoration

“What does it mean to say “unconditional” defense of the USSR? (…) It means that, regardless of the reason (…) we defend the social foundations of the USSR, if it is threatened by imperialism”. (Leon Trotsky)

There was a thread of continuity between the 1986th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1991, when Gorbachev won support for perestroika, and the end of the USSR in December XNUMX, thirty years ago. In five years the process of capitalist restoration was precipitated. It was a historic defeat.

Capitalist restoration closed the political stage opened at the end of the Second World War, but it did not open a new era of prosperity in the history of capitalism. A new political stage opened because, due to the dissolution of the USSR, the situation in the international system of States changed radically. However, the period that separates us from 1991 is already enough of an interval to support the conclusion that capitalism is not facing decades of prosperity.

The irony of history was that, between 1985 and 1991, Gorbachev and Yeltsin rivaled each other by writing articles and making speeches in defense of socialism, for internal consumption, while negotiating with Reagan. They sought to establish themselves in international alliances as to who would be the most qualified to carry out the restoration, while at the same time disputing the support of fractions of the bureaucracy, one against the other.

History has always been a battleground of ideas. The distinction between what has historically been progressive or regressive is at the heart of the investigation of the past. Understanding, in the apparently chaotic sequence of events, what are those changes that paved the way for a less unequal world, and those that preserved injustices, or generated new inequalities, should be an obligation of any serious analysis. The most elementary intellectual honesty is put to the test when it comes to separating what was revolutionary from what was reactionary. But it's less simple than it might seem.

In the face of major events, there is the double theoretical danger of underestimating their value or, on the contrary, overestimating them. The political danger is even greater and consists of falling in love or angry with reality, because the outcome of events did not correspond to our hopes, or contradicted our preferences. The end of the USSR had immense consequences, and it was regressive.

There are events that immediately arouse general astonishment because the impact of their importance is instantaneous. Revolutions are majestic because the legitimacy of the struggle of millions in the streets is irrefutable. Revolutions are admirable because they surprisingly, suddenly, and quickly set in motion large crowds, hitherto politically disinterested, and, by overthrowing hated governments, perform unusual feats that seemed impossible. Revolutions are great because they subvert the perception that collective destinies escape the will of the majority, and the spontaneity of the masses in struggle is a social earthquake that introduces hope into politics. Revolutions immediately arouse popular sympathy beyond the borders where power struggles are being fought, because they fire other peoples' imaginations that it is possible to change the world.

So it was with May 1968 in France and the Prague Spring, the Portuguese revolution in 1975, the Sandinista and Iranian revolutions in 1979, the Gdansk shipyard strike, the fall of Baby Doc Duvalier in Haiti in 1986 or the fall of De La Rua in Buenos Aires in 2001, the defeat of the coup against Chávez in Venezuela in 2002, or the overthrow of Gonzalo de Losada in Bolivia in 2003. in 1973 or in Videla's Argentina in 1976.

There are, on the other hand, processes whose perception is much more difficult, and their terrible significance is only apprehended years later. The explanation is simple, although the problem is complex: everything that happens for the first time in history is more difficult to understand.

Capitalist restoration was a social-economic transformation that was putting down state ownership, the monopoly of foreign trade and state planning and reintroducing private ownership, the direct relationship of corporations to the world market and mercantile regulation.

Thirty years later, “the Russian question”, that is, the nature of Stalinism, still remains intriguing. Being an original phenomenon, historically, the Russian question required a new elaboration, even if inspired by the theoretical premises bequeathed by previous Marxist generations.

Trotsky admitted that the existing social formation in the USSR was an unstable historical hybrid. defined the USSR as a State controlled by a socially privileged caste that could only perpetuate itself through monolithic political control, that is, a dictatorship – a political regime historically inferior to the liberal-democracy of the capitalist States in the imperialist countries – but which supported itself in economic-social relations superior to capitalism. Being an inconsistent historical hybrid, its existence would necessarily be transitory.

The existence of countries where private ownership of the great means of production was expropriated, even if their political regimes were aberrant bureaucratic deformations, meant an unexpected evolution of history. It placed the organized left in front of a paradoxical situation, and theoretical Marxism in front of a disconcerting challenge.

They should defend the social nature of states in the face of imperialist pressure for capitalist restoration. They would have to defend the achievements of the revolution against the different movements of factions that emerged from within the bureaucratic castes to perpetuate their social privileges and their political control, which, in the long term, would only be possible with the restoration.

They should, however, at the same time, support the mobilizations of workers and youth for democratic freedoms, against oppressive political regimes, to reopen the path to socialist democracy and the return to internationalism. That is, a defense conditioned to the class sign of the conflict. Something much more complex than unconditional defense or unconditional opposition.

The oscillation of the pendulum has always been very complex in the most varied situations, provoking, at its extremes, inevitable imbalances: Stalinophilia in the most schematic defensists, or Stalinophobia in the most dogmatic anti-defensists.

Historical national defeats, such as the defeat of the Chilean people against Pinochet in 1973, are processes that determine the general picture of the balance of forces for at least a generation. Historic defeats in a country of decisive importance such as the rise of Hitler in Germany in 1933, with even more reason, can leave consequences on a world scale.

The end of the USSR and capitalist restoration had historic consequences. Capitalism's apologists didn't wait long to proclaim their victory. The restoration of capitalism would be irrefutable proof of its superiority. The end of the USSR would be the end of socialism. The future would be capitalism. This conclusion also had repercussions in academic circles and left the left on the defensive. A reactionary world situation opened up.

Nevertheless, the restoration confirmed that the socio-economic relations that existed in the USSR and Eastern Europe were superior to capitalism, not inferior. During the XNUMXs, Russia and, to a greater or lesser extent, the countries of Eastern Europe experienced an economic, social and cultural regression that can only be compared, historically, to the aftermath of a war of devastation.

Thirty years after the end of the USSR, the left can go beyond nostalgic stalinophilia and paranoid stalinophobia.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman).


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