April 2015        

Socialism betrayed

Interview with Thomas Kenny, joint author of Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union (2004).

The younger generation needs to hear this truth. The socialist system proved itself capable of providing sustained, rapid economic growth over six decades, notable technical and scientific innovations, and unprecedented economic and social benefits to all its citizens, all the while defending itself from invasion and other forms of military pressure, combating subversion, sabotage, and threats, and offering economic aid, technical assistance and military protection to other nations struggling for independence and socialism.
     Consider socialism in relation to the evils of the US capitalist economy, the economy I know the best. For more than a century the US economy has been dominated by giant monopolies. Monopolisation grows ever more extreme. The dominant world power since 1945, US imperialism is now in a state of permanent global war. The US military is in action in scores of countries. Overseas US military bases number about a thousand by some reckonings. A $600 billion yearly military budget pays for this.
     Capitalism’s boom-bust economic cycle has become more violent in recent decades. The recovery from the 2008 crash is still weak and tentative in the United States. The unrestricted export of capital and jobs has deindustrialised many industrial areas, resulting in good union jobs in manufacturing being replaced by low-wage service jobs, often held by undocumented immigrants, alongside the fabulous wealth of a tenth of 1 per cent. There is homelessness for millions.
     Ugly political features stem from these economic realities: a tendency to restrict (bourgeois) democracy, for example the US Supreme Court’s decision to end all restriction on corporate donations to election campaigns; the Republican Party campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act. There is the growing paralysis of Congress, an institution that seemingly can muster the will only to authorise tax cuts for corporations, fund new wars, and strive to make the tax system more regressive.
     Racism is an old US evil. It creates monopoly superprofits from high unemployment rates and low wages for most Black workers. Today it is still expressed in police violence in Black urban areas and the mass incarceration of young Black men.
     The Leninist law of uneven development operates on so many levels. Vast regions of the US South and West, largely non-union, are home to the most backward forms of political belief and religiosity. The political representatives from these regions are now dominant in Congress. We have a culture sick with gun insanity and resultant frequent mass shootings of innocents. The gun lobby always blocks reform.
     There is brutal treatment of undocumented immigrants. The present government deports them on a greater scale than the Bush government did. The vaunted health care “reform” of 2010 was written by the private insurers. We have corporate media degraded to mindless “infotainment.” It excludes dissenting voices.
     We have a “justice” system that operates along blatant class lines. Torture in Guantánamo and the rendition “black sites”? Nobody goes to prison except a few corporals. An aggression against Iraq based on a Big Lie by top US officials? Nobody goes to prison. A trillion-dollar bail-out for banks whose illegal, fraudulent practices were the proximate cause of the crash of 2008? Nobody goes to prison. Secret NSA spying on the world? Nobody goes to prison. Pollution of the environment to the point of triggering climate change? Nobody goes to prison.
     A socialist economy’s superiority should be discussed concretely. Look at the main socialist country over most of the twentieth century, the USSR. Bahman Azad’s fine book Heroic Struggle, Bitter Defeat summaries its accomplishments. In the first two five-year plans, industrial production grew at an average annual rate of 11 per cent. From 1928 to 1940 the industrial sector grew from 28 to 45 per cent of the economy. Between 1928 and 1937 heavy manufacturing output’s share of total manufacturing output grew from 31 to 63 per cent.
     The illiteracy rate dropped from 56 to 20 per cent. The number of those completing secondary school and graduates of specialised schools and universities jumped. Moreover, in this period the state began providing free education, free health services, and social insurance, and after 1936 the state gave subsidies to single mothers and to mothers with many children. These accomplishments, Azad notes, were “impressive and historically unprecedented.”
     Between 1941 and 1953 the Soviet Union defeated fascist Germany and rebuilt after the devastation of the war. By 1948 total industrial output exceeded that of 1940, and by 1952 it was 2½ times the 1940 figure. The Soviet Union developed and forced the imperialist West into a “Cold War” stalemate.

■ See the full interview at http://politicaleconomy.ie.

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