THE collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 puts in serious doubt the universally accepted Marxist-Leninist view that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a political question. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)—stretching from the Baltic and Black Seas to the Pacific Ocean, in its final years consisting of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia or Belarus today, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirgiziya or Kyrgyzstan now, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, additionally made more at par with the United States in terms of world political clout, exercising control over the so-called Eastern Bloc countries consisting of Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania—was certainly a world behemoth before its dissolution.
In the arms race, the USSR had signaled its drive toward parity with the United States with its successful tests of ICBMs, which in fact back in the early 1960s had been discovered by the US, having been emplaced right at its backdoor, Cuba. That October 28, 1962 was the day the world stood still. US President John F. Kennedy had sent an ultimatum to the Soviet Union to dismantle its missile sites in Cuba or face the horrors of a war to end all wars: a nuclear confrontation with the United States. It was to the USSR’s credit that it gave in to the US demand, thereby saving the world from total annihilation (contradicted only by Mao Zedong who asserted that half of China’s 1 billion people would survive a nuclear war).
But then that’s precisely the concern of this article. The Soviet Union’s backing away from that Kennedy threat already betrayed an inherent weakness in the Soviet Union, a weakness that was prone to capitulate once confronted by a superior adversary.
As initially envisaged by Marx and Engels, and developed to actual fruition by Lenin in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, democracy would cease to be just a rhetoric for the working class as it is in the bourgeois system and become a living reality under the “dictatorship of the proletariat” (incidentally, a term first coined in an article in 1852 in the New York-based Turn-Zeitung by Joseph Weydemeyer, a friend of Marxin the Communist League).In “The economic basis of the withering away of the state, of state and revolution,” (Chapter 5 in his The State and Revolution), Lenin clarifies the question of democracy thus: “Only in communist society, when the resistance of the capitalists have disappeared, when there are no classes (i.e., when there is no distinction between the members of society as regards their relation to the social means of production), only then “the state… ceases to exist,” and “it becomes possible to speak of freedom.” (Italics mine.)
In other words, the reality of people’s democracy, of the entirety of the people exercising political power – the reality of the dictatorship of the proletariat – is not in the abstract of people’s political power wielded by a privileged clique, no matter that this clique proclaims itself to be the vanguard, but in the real, concrete form of ownership by the entire people of the social means of production. Without such ownership in existence in the Soviet Union, the Soviet people were just devoid of any sentiment that they had something of value to protect apart from the democracy Mikhail Gorbachev promoted with his glasnost and perestroika in 1991.
In the guise of carrying out reforms within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), Gorbachev struck at the very roots of the socialist framework of the Soviet Union, sending it totally crashing. Just what Gorbachev did could be gleaned by his winning, even before the Soviet crash could formally take place, of the Nobel Peace Prize 1990-1999, described by author Jonathan Steel in an article in guardian.co.uk (October 1990) thus: “… the world’s biggest consolation prize. He took the Nobel peace award for losing the Cold War, becoming the first communist leader to win the trophy worth £360,000 after dismantling the system his party spent 70 years creating.”
A more telling description was that by a Soviet foreign ministry spokesman who said: “We must remember, this certainly was not the prize for economics.”
For sure, the official had in mind the economy of the Soviet Union at the time, generally characterized by shortages of food and consumer goods. And as Lenin pointed out early on, again in his The State and Revolution, “Owing to the conditions of capitalist exploitation, the modern wage slaves are so crushed by want and poverty that ‘they cannot be bothered with democracy’, ‘cannot be bothered with politics’; in the ordinary, peaceful course of events, the majority of the population is debarred from participation in public and political life.”
Therefore, in the ultimate analysis, though the Soviet Union might have grown politically at the turn of the 1990s, the Soviet proletariat had not been carried to that level of exercising control of the social means of production by which alone they could assert dictatorship over society. And when the bourgeoisie came charging back—as they did against the Paris Commune in 1848—the Soviet proletariat just had to succumb, as did the Paris communards, no matter that they died fighting to the last man.
(To be continued tomorrow)