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Stalin and the USSR - Alexander Buzgalin

No individual is more the embodiment of the “horrors of socialism and communism” than Joseph Stalin. A sober assessment of Stalin is necessary to envision what a democratic form of socialism might look like. Alexander Buzgalin joins Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news

Paul Jay

Hi, welcome to theAnalysis.news. I’m Paul Jay, and we’ll be back in just a few seconds with Alexander Buzgalin. Please don’t forget the donate button and subscribe and share and all of that.

This is the beginning of a series of interviews and discussions about what modern socialism might look like. At the heart of the Western anti-socialist and anti-communist worldview is that socialism and communism necessarily represent a massive concentration of power in the hands of government, often a single party and often, even, a single individual man. The ideas of Marx are said to appear just and progressive, but public ownership of the economy, these people argue, is inherently anti-democratic and will inevitably lead to the rise of dictatorship and a cult of a leader’s personality.

These anti-socialists and anti-communists argue that as bad as a system of private property may be, it’s better than anything else. And it’s better to try to rein in the excesses of capitalism, than move towards socialism. I’m not going to address here the absurdity that capitalism is better, by comparison, a system that has given us two world wars, endless smaller wars, various forms of fascism, and threatens organized human society with its inability, as it’s blinded by the need to produce maximum profits, to deal with the climate crisis and the threat of nuclear war.

Now, the question here is, would a form of socialism be better? No individual is more the embodiment of what is depicted as the horrors of socialism and communism than Joseph Stalin. In schools, we are taught that in the 20th century there were two forms of totalitarianism, fascism, and communism. Hitler and Stalin are portrayed as two sides of the same coin. Understanding Stalin and why the Soviet Union became a repressive and murderous state, while still defending progressive values like socialized health care and full employment, I think is critical to developing a vision for what socialism might look like in the future.

So here to discuss Stalin and the Soviet Union is Alexander Buzgalin. He’s a professor, director of the Center of Modern Marxist Studies at Lomonosov Moscow State University. He’s chief editor of the left Marxist journal Alternatives, an academic journal dealing with problems in political economy. He’s also vice president of the World Political Economy Association and he’s one of the organizers of the Russian Social Forums. Thanks so much for joining us again, Alexander.

Alexander Buzgalin

Thank you very much for the opportunity to be with you and to discuss such an important question.

Paul Jay

So it’s a very complicated question and it’s going to take some time. I don’t know if we’re really going to solve this in one session. And I know it’s late for you, so let’s start. And, we can always do more than one part on another day. So when Marx and Engels talked about the dictatorship of the proletariat, I don’t think they would have used those words if they knew what was coming in the 20th century, Hitler and otherwise, and Stalin for that matter. But their vision of what socialism would be was a transitory stage towards communism. Socialism still has classes. Communism, in theory, is a classless society without much of any state at all, actually. That’s the irony of all this. But they thought that socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, if I understand it correctly, meant democracy for working people, using the state as a coercive force over the elites to stop capitalism from coming back and so on. But it was a democratic vision. It wasn’t just a dictatorship of a party. So talk about Stalin and how does the theory of Marx and Engels, at least as people attribute it to, give rise to a figure like Stalin and a state like that Soviet state?

Alexander Buzgalin

So you put many questions in one and I don’t know how I can start. Maybe the first and the most important idea which I want to stress is that Stalin’s system was the real power of bureaucracy, state and Communist Party bureaucracy, so-called nomenklatura. And this power was a superstructure, but it was the body. Stalin was like a parasite. A parasite on the body of a live organism. The live organism was the Soviet Union, other countries, where people were creating by their hands, their brains, their common activity a new society. Soviet Union was not only well known because of the free-of-charge health care, free-of-charge education system, guarantees of jobs, and so on. But this is not nothing, by the way. The most important thing was that we had a new type of personality, new type of culture, new type of ideas to build a new, just world where people will create by their hands the history. In the beginning, especially in the 1920s during new economic policy, and even after that, even in Stalin’s years, we had a lot of enthusiasm, enthusiasm of masses, of millions of people who were building together a new society. And without this enthusiasm, without this communist collectivity, some elements of this communist collectivity, we never could have had a victory over fascism in the Second World War.

Of course, for US people, World War Two was mainly in the ocean. But let’s look at the reality. Against the Soviet Union were together Germany, Italy, all East European countries, including Poland, Denmark, Holland, Belgium. All these quasi-democratic countries capitulated without any real struggle when Hitler occupied these countries. And the police of these countries gave least of all Jews who were killed or who were in camps, in prisons. And these countries, Belgium and so on, were producing armaments, tanks, guns to kill 27 million Soviet people and millions more people in Europe, in Asia, everywhere. So the Soviet Union was fighting against the entirety of Europe. Spain, fascism, Portugal, fascism, Italy, fascism, France under the occupation of Germany, fascism, Germany, fascism, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, everywhere fascism. Austria, Czechoslovakia, which was in 1939 a producer of armaments in the same scale as Germany, capitulated. All of Europe capitulated when Hitler said, “let’s move together against the Soviet Union” and the capital said, OK. And even Britain, first of all, said, “OK, we love you, Mr. Hitler, because we hate the Soviet Union.” So it is a very long story. And of course, forms of Stalinism and forms of fascism were in some aspects similar. But there are similarities in absolutely different phenomena. For example, dolphin and shark. One is an animal, another is a fish. But they look very similar and the nature is absolutely opposite. So Stalin’s dictatorship, first of all, was not only a dictatorship of bureaucracy. Stalin’s system was again, a parasite on the body of a live, developing socialist trend, not socialism. We did not finish this process, but it was a real trend of the creation of a new society.

Paul Jay

Hang on for one sec. Just elaborate that a little bit. You’re saying the Soviet Union was a trend towards socialism but had not actually achieved socialism? Is that what you’re saying?

Alexander Buzgalin

Yes, that’s what I said. And we must remember that it was only 70 years. 70 years for the appearance of a qualitatively new society is very, very young. It’s like a two, three-year-old kid. Communism, for Marxists, is negation, dialectical negation, not only of capitalism, but of the whole epoch of alienation, the whole epoch of exploitation, the whole epoch of terrible relations where personality is determined by slavery, by feudal lords, by dictatorship, like in China, in India and so on, and capital and market. All this must be dialectically negated. To overcome all this realm of necessities, this is again a quotation from Marx and Engels, it is necessary to change everything that we human beings had during thousands and thousands of years. It’s an extremely complex task, extremely. It’s necessary to overcome all forms of alienation and in the Soviet Union and other countries with socialist trends we started this process. We made the first steps. We created a social sector. We created, first of all, during the new economic policy, a real initiative from below to build cooperatives. Forced collectivization was later and Soviet Union was different. Stalin’s period is a relatively small period of time. It’s really 10 years before war and a few years after war and the war itself, the World War. And it was a period when all the world was unjust. Let’s try to remember. A democratic Britain, but millions of people were killed in colonies. Indians were not people, of course. When Stalin was killing Russians, Georgians, Ukrainians, it was terrible. But when democratic British guys were killing Indians it was OK? When French democratic guys were killing people in Africa, it was OK? And it’s everywhere. When in Vietnam, the United States was killing 20 million people. If all victims we put together during the war. So it was a period of Stalinism everywhere. When Churchill, after the end of the Second World War, said “it’s a very good idea to use nuclear bombs against the Soviet Union. We have nuclear bombs, they don’t have. So let’s make this. It will be very humanistic. We made the first experiment in Japan. It was a wonderful result. Half a million people killed during a few seconds. Why not?” I’m sorry for these emotions, but this is important. And it’s necessary to understand, yes, we had dictatorship, we have political repressions, we have ideological domination, and it was terrible. But in many aspects, capitalism of the first half of the 20th century was also not a beautiful puppy.

Paul Jay

Well, Hitler is not a bastard of capitalism. Hitler, fascism is a genuine child of capitalism. 

Alexander Buzgalin

And what is also important, German capitalism was based on the market. It was more evolution of markets. It was based on private property. Hitler even supported private property of small businesses. It’s like a god for liberals’ small private business. Capital of Germany was supported by Hitler. Huge corporations and small capital of Germany was supported. Small businesses of Germany were supported by Hitler. This small bourgeoisie was one of the main social and political forces for the victory of Hitler.

So Hitler’s fascism, national socialism, was based on capitalism. And Stalin’s deformations, terrible deformations, but they were on the basis of the first attempts to build communism. And we had the strengths of communism. But now in the 21st century, of course, there are a lot of absolutely new trends and opportunities and possibilities. And we have more options where we can see elements of communism, not only socialism. We’re using Wikipedia. We are using a lot of informational resources. I’m saying very well-known things, but it’s important. Now we have a big space where people are producing for free, without money as motivation, without dictatorship of bureaucrats, without Gosplan. They are producing for free very important values for everybody. And everybody can consume these values, better to not say consume but to use for core creativity, again, for free.

Paul Jay

Why did Stalin emerge? Well, first of all, is Stalin the figure to be blamed? There’s a process here, it’s not just this one guy. The use of force to eliminate enemies, this wasn’t just Stalin, this was also with Lenin. Of course, what you say is true about all the other countries. As I said in my introduction, nothing in what we’re talking about here is to suggest that, frankly, far worse crimes have been committed by various capitalist countries, starting with the United States, especially since World War Two. So none of this is to say somehow this capitalist system is preferable. And clearly, whatever formal democracy there is in these Western countries, it certainly does not apply to the countries under their control in Asia, Africa and Latin America. They don’t have any problem supporting and promoting dictatorships and so on. Nothing I’m going to say is to suggest there’s something so democratic about the West. All that being said, we  who want socialism have to be very honest and clear about what went wrong in the Soviet Union to start with. And then we could have another conversation about China. So why does such a brutal police state emerge in the midst of this revolutionary enthusiasm you talk about?

Alexander Buzgalin

Of course, this is a huge question and there are many very long debates. We wrote together with my wife, Ludmilla Bulavka, a book called Soviet Union, optimistic tragedy. And this is a very complex analysis of all different contradictions and so on. I’ll try to summarize. First of all, in the late 90s, early 20th century, in such countries as the Russian Empire, semi-periphery country, we had from one hand the necessity to overcome capitalism. From another hand, we had absolute minimum of prerequisites to start creation of socialism. It’s like trying to build capitalism in the 15th century. It’s possible. It was possible. Italy really started to build the capitalist market in 15th century. What was the result? Inquisition, terrible dictatorship, permanent civil wars, immorality, and so on, but also wonderful art, some successes in science, technique, and so on. So when we have this contradiction, socialism is necessary and socialism is nearly impossible, the situation creates such phenomena as the Soviet Union.

Paul Jay

Why do you say it was necessary?

Alexander Buzgalin

First World War. People are dying for nothing. Millions, millions, millions together, more than 10 million people for nothing. Colonies. Russian empire, it was an empire. We had inside Russia colonies. Enormous contradictions inside the country. Social differentiation was extremely high. Higher than even now in the United States, we had real poverty for poor peasants and we had the normal spending of money and everything among the aristocracy, same as feudal aristocracies and billionaires. So extremely deep contradictions. And the war created a situation when the only solution was revolution. You know the slogan of young guys. The only solution, the revolution. It was reality. And first of all, in the Russian Empire, the Democratic Bourgeois Revolution took place in February 1917. And only after that when the bourgeois could not take power and make real democratic changes. Bourgeoisie didn’t want to give land to the peasants. They didn’t want to give power to the Soviets. Real organs of self-management which were built from below. They did not do this.

Paul Jay

These are like workers councils, right?

Alexander Buzgalin

Workers councils. Yes, it was councils of soldiers, of peasants, of workers growing from below. Bolsheviks only in August, September took the majority in the Soviets. Before it was not Bolshevik organs. They were growing from below. And what was after the so-called coup d’etat in October 1917. During a few months in all regions of Russia, all regions of Russian empire, Soviets, not Bolsheviks, Soviets took power. And in only 20 percent of the regions was violence. And not much. The most was in Moscow 2000-3000 people were killed from both sides.

Then, peaceful revolution. When Bolsheviks arrested the future leaders of anti-revolutionary forces, they put them for two days in the fortress, then came and the chief of the future so-called KGB came and asked, please give us an honest word of officer that you will not attack Soviet power. And the generals said, “we never will attack Soviet power. We are aristocrats, our word means that we are telling the truth.” Next week they started aggression, but they did not have power. Until the summer of 1918, there was no civil war. It was the development of Soviet power. And only when Germany, Turkey, and so on from one hand, Britain, France, the United States, Japan from another hand, when they together started the occupation of former Russia, only in this period really started civil war. It was an attack mainly from outside on the Soviet power. It’s the real history. And it was written by one of the wonderful British historians. I forgot his name now. So in this situation, the first years of civil war and terrible pandemics, it was influenza. And the largest part of the victims of the civil war was because of the pandemic, not because of the war itself.

And after that, 1922, the country completely destroyed by World War and Civil War. What started to do Lenin in this situation? Yes, it was a one-party system, but there was a lot of different factions inside the Communist Party and some of the factions were like Social Democrats. Some were radical communists, Trotsky, and his friends. Some were conservative left, which we have a lot of now in Russia. And it was not a multi-party political system, but it was a real competition of different forces. We had real power Soviets in this period. They had a lot of forms of participation of workers in management and in control. Lenin’s initiative to create so-called Rabkrin. It was a union where workers, only workers, had power to control everybody, including the Communist Party. And this organ was integrated with party control commission which was independent from the Central Committee. Stalin was nobody. He was just secretary, technical secretary, in the Communist Party. Then it was chairman of the government, the chairman of the Soviets, and so on. So it was a very complex system. And new economic policy was the first example of a mixed economy with markets and planning, with different forms of property, with an enormous amount of different cultural trends. So-called avant-garde art started in this period and developed in very beautiful and ugly forms. So it was a really interesting period.

Paul Jay

This is throughout the early 1920s.

Alexander Buzgalin

Yes, it started in 1921, really. And it was until the first five-year plan until 1928, something like that. But then the bureaucracy appeared from below and the enthusiasm of the builders of communism, those who had victory in civil war was going down and the power of Michania. It’s a Russian word which doesn’t have an exact translation. It’s conformists. People who want to have a peaceful life, money, commodity, family, and nothing else. So-called black market conformism. And they like bureaucracy, especially paternalistic bureaucracy. Paternalistic bureaucracy gave them education, healthcare, guarantees of jobs, peaceful lives. They protected from Hitler and they created an army which could defeat Hitler. So this Michania received a lot from this paternalistic bureaucracy. And who was really killed by Stalin? It was not mainly intelligence, it was mainly real subjects of social creativity, subjects who were trying to build a new country. One-half of the delegates of the Congress of the Communist Party who started to argue with Stalin. A lot of officers in the KGB. Those who didn’t want to have repressions. A lot of generals from the army who didn’t want to have dictatorship. A lot of party leaders from below who were trying to build democracy. It was a struggle of this Michania, of these conformist masses together with Stalin’s bureaucracy and this block of paternalistic life against those who wanted to build history. To create a new society, to build socialism, to create a new society, to be creators of the history.

And also, we had a lot of different artists, writers. Even well known, such as Bulgakov, who is typically shown in the Western press as an anti-communist dissident, and soon he wrote a play in favor of Stalin. And it was a lot of conformists, from liberal intelligentsia who said that Stalin is great. In all the main beautiful buildings in the center of Moscow are these signs “here was poet, writer, artist, actor and so on”. So they received from Stalin also a lot.

Paul Jay

You get a nice apartment. You get lots of people applauding you.

Alexander Buzgalin

Yes, and it was real support and it was really good art. This is the paradox. It’s impossible to say that it was even inside the Communist Party bureaucracy. It was a terrible contradiction because on one hand, they were dictators. They were bureaucrats. But from another hand, a big part of them, not everybody, but a big part, maybe even the biggest part of them, were real actors of the drama where they were playing the role of the builders of socialism. When these people went to war, they became heroes. A lot of them were killed.

Paul Jay

Let’s go back to your first point because there were people at the time of Lenin and certainly as Stalin emerges who were arguing that the prerequisites have to be there to build socialism. You can’t just build socialism out of mostly feudalism or very primitive capitalism. People like Plekhanov and others, I believe, argued this. But was it inevitable that once the Russian Revolution set down that road of trying to build this full-fledged socialism without the prerequisites, was it inevitable that there would be a Stalin?  People always say if Lenin had lived.

Alexander Buzgalin

First of all, there is a big difference between the forms of violence in the Lenin period and later. We have statistics. Let’s exclude the civil war because civil war was a bloody situation and during war, everybody is killing masses everywhere. So after the civil war, it was a period when the Soviet Union had an extremely deep contradiction between revolution and counter-revolution. It was a period of isolation of the Soviet Union and a blockade from all countries of the world, except maybe Mongolia. So it was permanent attacks from abroad in different forms. But there was a few thousand people who were in prison not killed by NKVD or, let’s say, future KGB. It was, of course, an attack on the anti-revolutionary forces, counter-revolutionary forces. But these counter-revolutionary forces were coming with guns and bombs. And with an army standing on the border of Soviet Russia. So it was a struggle. I can say it was an honest struggle of two enemies. Brutal, violent struggle. But there was thousands of people who were in prison. Afterward, when Stalin’s dictatorship came step by step, and especially in the period of so-called big terror in 1937, millions were in prison, and definitely, we can say that 300,000 people were directly killed. This is a statistic which is proved by a liberal group of people who made the museum of the Gulag, a museum of all these camps. And their estimation is that the number of pure victims of Stalin’s terror is three hundred fifty thousand people directly killed and 2.5 million who were in prison because of political motives.

Paul Jay

The number that’s commonly said in the West is closer to 20 million.

Alexander Buzgalin

You know, typically they put together victims of hunger. Victims of everything, so it’s very difficult to say. It’s possible to say that we had millions of victims of Yeltsin’s reforms because the decline of the population of Russia was one million and a half instead of growth of the population because of poverty, hunger. And this is the 20th century in a rich country. But formally, nobody was killed by Yeltsin. So that’s what we will calculate. About statistics, there is a very good book of a Trotskyite, enemy of Stalin. This is a Russian book, but if you want, I can send you information in English about these victims? It’s terrible, in any case, two million and a half or three million people, nearly three million people. It’s an enormous amount of victims. But I want to stress it was a struggle of a bureaucracy, together with the conformists, against revolutionaries. This is another picture which typically is presented. And even in this terrible situation, we did not have a defeat of socialist forces, communists in our country. We were not completely defeated. And especially after victory in the Second World War, the whole world changed. Now, few people remember that in all European countries, Western European countries, after victory in World War two, was typically a union of communists with socialists. And only the Marshall Plan destroyed this unity. In France, in other countries, it was a trend to build maybe not socialism, but definitely a very, very left model of capitalism.

We had in the 1960s in the Soviet Union may be the best period of our history. When it is becoming warmer after winter. It’s not even spring, but the first time you don’t have a lot of snow, ice is transforming into the water. So the beginning, only the first steps. And it was an enormous jump, everywhere. When we are talking about Soviet Union, it’s interesting. The Soviet Union did not give people jeans with holes in the knee. And of course, it’s impossible to survive if you don’t have jeans for one thousand dollars with brand stamp and with a very good hole because if you have a bad hole, it will be ten dollars. If you have a right type of hole on the knee, you will pay 1000 dollars. So we could not produce such types of jeans. We had a shortage of fashion commodities, not commodities, but fashion commodities in the 60s and 70s. There was enough bread and so on. The prices were too low, that’s why we had a shortage. We did not build a consumer society. It’s true. But what we created during a few decades, a few decades only, in the Soviet Union on the basis of enthusiasm and new forms of social-economic organization, was one of the best or simply the best systems of education in the world, after all, wars and crises and so on, where everybody could receive higher education for free. I am one of the examples. I came from a very simple family, and I, without any money, any form of corruption, became a student of the best University of Russia and it was one of the best in the world. Moscow State University in the 70s. There was a system of very good health care because life expectancy in the Soviet Union was like in Western European countries. We had a productivity of labor, yes, that was two times less than in the United States but higher than in Italy, for example. We created a wonderful space industry, aircraft industry. Civil aircrafts produced in the Soviet Union occupied 30 percent of the world market of aircrafts and it was all created during a few years. We had the wonderful results in fundamental science, world-known. Fantastic art and culture for everybody. If you are a five-year-old boy you can come to the House of Pioneers and for free learn how to play music, any instrument. You can learn how to be a wonderful sportsman. You can learn how to be a great creator of new society in pioneer organization. You could do whatever you want. I participated in a small regional house of pioneers in the poor region of Moscow. It was a wonderful space for dancing, for singing, for painting, for free. When people were creating their own forms of art with the support of the state, with money paid by the state, even if they were not very good singers or writers or artists, they could do this.

Paul Jay

So why did the Soviet Union collapse?

Alexander Buzgalin

That’s another story. But first of all, let’s make a very important exemption. We had terrible contradictions in the Soviet Union. And we cannot take only good things without bad things, but we can think and must think, how to separate positive trends and how to solve contradictions. Not to take one part, but how to solve contradictions and to build a new society through the development of trends that we could find in the Soviet Union. And the trends were very important. There was a trend of social liberation, a trend of harmonic development of personality, a trend of free of charge access to fundamental resources of life like apartments, labor, education, health care. And free of charge access to information, by the way. Except bureaucratic dictatorship and so on. So how to liberate these emancipatory trends from bureaucratic dictatorship? This is a key challenge for 21st-century socialism. This is well known and what is important now in the 21st century is that we can find a lot of new objective phenomena which show how it can be done. I mentioned already Wikipedia. This is one example only. We have a lot of forms of people moving from private property to new forms of organization of life. We have even wonderful jokes, but in the Soviet Union, we had co-living, co-working, car-sharing, and so on, so all this fashion sinks. So people are moving. And there is an interesting statistic. I have a wonderful, very talented master’s degree student of mine and she made a comparative analysis of cities with dominant left parties and cities with dominant right parties. In cities with dominant left parties, the majority uses car-sharing and public transport, not private cars. This is only one side. So when we are thinking about future socialism and moving towards communism, we must understand that we have to think about qualitative changes. They can grow up inside capitalism, but it should be qualitative changes. It’s impossible to give to everybody a Land Rover or a Rolls-Royce car, impossible. And not necessary, it’s stupid simply. It’s necessary to create a society where everybody will understand it’s better to use green public transport, bikes, maybe electric bikes.

Paul Jay

Before we get into that conversation. And I do want to have that conversation, maybe in the next episode. But what do you say to people that say that the talk of all power to the Soviets, the talk of democracy for the workers, really became a one-party rule. It became a one-party dictatorship. And early on, there were different factions in the party that really did compete and had votes. Like in the 1920s, there was a lot of, you could say a kind of democracy in the party itself. But that didn’t last. So what do you say to people that, and this is certainly what the right-wing argues in the United States, but not just the right-wing, corporate Democrats who are just as anti-socialist and anti-communist as the right-wing are. And their argument is that this kind of socialism necessarily leads to a lack of any kind of actual democracy. I’m not saying there’s real democracy under capitalism. Let’s put that aside because I think the formal democracy, while it’s better than no democracy, it’s not much democracy. But they’re arguing that history, so far at least, especially in the Soviet Union and China, has led to this.

Alexander Buzgalin

Well, first of all, this is really a very important and complex question. But to make a small break in our very intensive talk, I mentioned one time in our conversations a very famous anecdote of the Soviet period. An American guy is coming to the Soviet Union. He meets another Soviet person and says, “So we have democracy. You don’t have democracy in the Soviet Union. I can come and stay in front of the White House and say that the president of the United States is a son of a bitch? Can you do the same?” So there are two answers. One answer was one of dissident people. They said the Soviet man stands and says I also can say that the president of the United States is a son of a bitch. But there was another variant which was more typical for ordinary Soviet people. So a Soviet guy is saying, “OK, I cannot say that Brezhnev is a son of a bitch. But I can come to the director of my enterprise and say that he is stupid and he is doing terrible things and I never will lose my job. I will continue to work as a worker and nobody will put me off. Can you do the same in your democratic country? So it was part of the truth. And we did not have formal political democracy and formal freedom of speech. But there were a lot of forms of control from below, on the local level, on the level of enterprise, on the level of region and so on. And the party committee or director of the enterprise didn’t have authoritarian power in the enterprise. 

Paul Jay

Now you’re talking more after the death of Stalin.

Alexander Buzgalin

Yes, after. But it was in the 20s, maybe until early 30s, and it was after the death of Stalin in 1953. And we had a lot of forms of participation of workers in management. Very interesting experiments, autonomous brigades, so-called autonomous teams. This is the Soviet Union experience, first of all. And we had some real power of trade unions. For example, distribution of apartments, distribution of free of charge opportunities for health care, addition to the wage, and so on. So it was not nothing. It was really very bad that we didn’t have political democracy, but some forms of economic and social democracy we had. It’s important. So second, why? The red line of Soviet development, of the development of socialism, the line of development towards communism was defeated by the union of conformists and bureaucrats two times. The first time this communist line was defeated by, not even Stalin, but Stalinist restoration of bureaucratic power in the 1930s and big terror. But it was not complete defeat of the communist line and it was not a complete victory of conformists and bureaucracy. But the second time in the late 1970s, again, conformism and bureaucrats came together and they defeated socialism because, for conformist people, consumer society and markets are an adequate form of existence. If we want to move towards communism we must have step-by-step growth of enthusiasm, social creativity, and real democracy. Socialism is impossible to build. Socialism is necessary to grow up like a tree from below by the creativity of the masses. And this is the main lesson of the Soviet Union. And the more we have a basis for this self-activity of the people, the more we have guarantees against bureaucratic degradation of the socialist trend. This is my answer. It’s not very simple, but I cannot give another one.

Paul Jay

Do you imagine a progressive movement of a scale in one of these advanced capitalist countries? Which is what Marx and Engels always said; that a prerequisite for socialism was actually advanced capitalism. Maybe the question answers itself. Clearly, the multi-party system continues. There’s no evidence a single-party system can remain democratic.

Alexander Buzgalin

First of all, the idea of Soviets was not the idea of parties. The idea was to move beyond parties and beyond this formal system and to build representation of people’s interests through the organization of elections in the regions and working places. People working together in an enterprise or people who are working together in social movements, organizations, or in the region, are creating networks, associations who send their representatives to the Soviet. Let’s say parliament, not parties. And the power belongs not to professional politicians who are based on the bureaucratic apparatus of the party. The power, the delegates, members of parliament, represent real networks. “I represent union of enterprises, I represent greens, I represent women’s movement, I represent citizens of this big region.” And if this union of enterprises or this green movement thinks Buzgalin is a terrible member of parliament, “we don’t like his activity,” they will change and instead of Buzgalin will be somebody else. I am not a professional politician. I am simply the voice of the organization. And if I don’t deliberate law or have expertise, I am not alone, and I’m not based on the professional bureaucrats. I ask this green movement, “please, altogether, millions of people, make expertise together with the wonderful experts. Is this project green or is it dirty?” So this is the idea of representative democracy based on grassroots networking, and this is the idea of socialism. And the transitional period, of course, is the most difficult question. So the key question, why did Lenin have victory and why did Allende and some other people in Latin America not have victory. They took victory in the elections. And then they said “it’s necessary to keep everything perfect like it was before. Liberals, social democrats, socialists, communists, let’s have pure democratic competition.” But who has the real power in the economy? Capital. One vote of capitalist Buzgalin.  Hundreds of millions of dollars will give not one vote, but maybe one million votes. And one vote of Buzgalin will again be one vote of Buzgalin. So if you keep the power of capital in the economy, you definitely will have the victory of right-wing political forces in so-called democratic elections. Even if there is nothing as manipulation. But manipulation definitely will take place. So this is the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The abolition of bourgeoisie classes, not the killing of bourgeoisie. The idea is if you are the owner of an enterprise, for example, a metal still factory, and you’re a good entrepreneur, great, you will be the director of this enterprise. You’ll have a wage that’s 10, maybe 20 times more than the workers, but not 1000 times, as is the case in Russia now. And you will have the right to vote together with all the collective. And if these factory workers, engineers decide that you, the former owner, are a great guy, you are thinking about the enterprise, not about your money, you will be our delegate in the parliament. No problem. But you will represent our collective and if you think about yourself, not about our factory, we’ll have you step down and we’ll send worker Ivanov to the parliament. So this is the idea of the abolition of the bourgeoisie class. But if you want to be the owner of the factory in a mixed economy after the victory of left forces, you do not have a right to vote. This is a day of proletariat dictatorship. And Marx, Engels, and Lenin said, “we are honest people. Bourgeoisie says that the bourgeois system is democracy. We don’t think so. This is dictatorship of capital in the form of democracy. And we don’t want to create the image that we are pure democrats. In the transitional period, we must defeat bourgeoisie. And we honestly say it should be a dictatorship of the proletariat with much more democracy for working people than they ever had. But for bourgeoisie, no democracy. You want to work as ordinary people together? You can participate in the political process. You want to be owners of factories? The transitional period is a mixture of private property on one hand and social property in another. If you want to be owners, you have money, but you don’t have political power. These are the rules of the game. And when we have socialism we don’t have owners of factories, we don’t have bourgeoisie, and we don’t have working class by the way. Socialism is abolition of the working class because we no longer have wage labor. And what is socialism without wage labor? That’s for the next session.

Paul Jay

It’s a good beginning of the conversation. Thanks very much, Alexander.

Alexander Buzgalin

Thank you. It was great. And I’m sorry for my emotional presentation, but it’s an extremely deep and very nervous question for us. This is a very important question for us. We have new forms of struggle. We have again people who are arrested. There was a lot of debates about Navalny and his arrest and so on. But one of my colleagues, Nikolai Platoshkin, a professor of university, chief of the department. He initiated the Movement for the New Socialism. He was for one year arrested in his flat without the opportunity even to leave and walk in his garden. He’s not young. He’s had problems with his heart. One year he was waiting until court. And after that, two weeks ago, he received five years of prison. So he is arrested, but he lives in the apartments and he cannot have normal work.

Paul Jay

And he is charged with what?

Alexander Buzgalin

I don’t remember the English equivalent, but he is not in prison, but he has the status of the prison.

Paul Jay

House arrest.

Alexander Buzgalin

Not house arrest. He can leave his house even, but he is defeated in his rights. He cannot participate in elections. He must come to the police every weekend to say that I am here. I didn’t leave the country.

Paul Jay

And what was he convicted of? What’s the crime?

Alexander Buzgalin

That he said openly, “I want to be president of Russia and I will build socialism.” So it was said that he was an extremist. It was like a theoretical presentation. So this is an example of how it’s organized in Russia. And by the way, this is an example of the democracy of the Western media. They will never create company in defense of Platoshkin. Freedom of speech is not zero, but very limited.

Paul Jay

They rally around someone who’s pro-Western. They don’t care about any other part of the opposition.

Alexander Buzgalin

Yeah, they create space for this mosquito in the mass media, but not for the elephant who will fight against the tiger of liberalism. But let’s build the elephant. Let’s grow the elephant of the left movement. Thank you very much, Paul, this was great.

Paul Jay

Thanks, Alexander, and thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news. Don’t forget the donate button and all the other buttons.

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7 Comments

  1. Let’s see what he says?

    1. “Stalin was like a parasite. A parasite on the body of a live organism. The live organism was the Soviet Union.”
    A parasite is an organism that lives off of the “blood” of another organism, without adding anything to the first. Then are all politicians a parasite? Buzgalin says elsewhere that Russia has 100 billionaires. They created chaos and in 93 – 94 they were enabled to “buy” $200 billion worth of Soviet industry for $7 billion. It’s billionaires that are parasites, besides being robber/barons.

    2. “We had a new type of personality.”
    He is saying some people wanted to contribute and to collaborate. They also had (and still do have) an old type of personality. To eliminate opposition through force. The use of force to eliminate enemies, wasn’t just Stalin, this was also with Lenin. Surely Khrushchev, Yeltsin, how about Putin?

    3. “All these quasi-democratic countries capitulated without any real struggle when Hitler occupied these countries.”
    Hitler’s regime had done it’s homework. In each of these countries there was an active 5th column close to power. What’s the 5th column? It is rich people who are promised that if they help overthrow their government and deliver their country to the aggressor, they are promised power and riches 10 times what they have now.

    4. “Belgium etc, Austria, Czechoslovakia were all producing armaments.”
    That’s why billionaires start wars. The sell armaments to both sides, for as long as they can (officially) stay out of it. Then they still sell supplies to the enemy. That’s the only purpose.

    5. “Socialism is necessary to grow up like a tree from below by the creativity of the masses. This is the main lesson of the Soviet Union.”
    Talking about the “masses” is talking through your hat. Nothing is going to spring up from the masses except hate, violence and chaos. Socialism has to grow up in small groups united by their beliefs and organized with a system of justice to self police their emotions. It could be in worker owned companies in capitalism.

    6. “Socialism is abolition of the working class because we no longer have wage labor.“
    This is what makes Marxists into fools. Why do they talk this way? What has never ever existed is not existential. They waste their time taking about a Nothing, an in-existential pipe dream. A vague thought that has no reality. That blabbering wrecks socialism of billions of practical people. Why don’t they stay with point 5 and let “socialism” grow like a tree from group creativity.

    Buzgalin says he lived it, so he is sure.
    I lived it too, in religious based communes. There was up to 12,000 people. It was nice, it was wonderful, no money transactions, but of course they needed mass donations to get it off the ground and make it work. Definitely not sustainable. In a whole multi-ethnic nation, even in a small city I will guarantee it will never work without repression. So in my view repression is the key ingredient of communism, repression is not a contradiction, it is the needed fact. Why poison your arguments with pointless end-games. Just go step by step with cooperation and see what evolves organically.

  2. The chap says 20 million died from the Vietnam war.
    Does he mean 2 million?
    Cant find any references that suggest the former number.

  3. Below is in reference to the above paragraph:…”But let’s look at the reality….All of Europe capitulated when Hitler said, “let’s move together against the Soviet Union”…. 

    so, any conquered nation overrun by the Nazi occupation was by definition collaborationist.  by same token forced labor counts as support.  this by extension would include labor camps.  so Petain and Vichy count definitively; De Gaul and the entire Free French apparatus in London and France are dismissible.

    Czechoslovakia capitulated after it’s allies – England and France – reneged .  Franco kept Spain out of the war.  Poland “capitulated without any real struggle” as in the Molotov-Ribbentrop accord never happened; Russia’s invasion two weeks after Hitler’s doesn’t count; Katyn never happened except that Putin now says it did.  that Poland had the biggest and most effective Resistance against the Nazi machine in Europe doesn’t matter.  Everybody enthusiastically followed Hitler to kill the Soviet Union which had shown no expansionist intentions whatsoever except of course for its rabid ideology while fielding the biggest army in Europe and invading Finland and Poland which doesn’t count; not after Trotsky anyway.

    so who’s playing who here?  
    please punch the bemusement button, the triangulated bullshit button, and the big ham-fisted lie button, and the genuine Russian experience button, and what do you do for an encore in Part 3?

  4. Buzgalin is interesting and informative on Russia, not so good on other countries. E.g the small countries of Europe – Denmark, Holland etc versus Hitler were Bambi vs Godzilla. Their most active imaginable resistance would have been less than a mosquito bite to Germany.

    On Chile:
    So the key question, why did Lenin have victory and why did Allende and some other people in Latin America not have victory. They took victory in the elections. And then they said “it’s necessary to keep everything perfect like it was before. Liberals, social democrats, socialists, communists, let’s have pure democratic competition.” But who has the real power in the economy? Capital.

    Nonsense about Chile. Allende was succeeding. He had real power, as much or more than Chilean Capital. The “Capital” that overthrew him was not Chilean, it was American.

    The reason why Lenin succeeded, why Mao succeeded, why Franklin Roosevelt could defeat Capital in its citadel is very, very simple and obvious. Humans, especially in the 20th-21st centuries LOVE to make the simple and obvious complicated and obscure.

    Chile is a small country – especially East/West. Russia, China and the USA are big ass countries, among the biggest in the world. The rest of the world’s Capital does NOT have anything near the amount of power to dictate what happens in Russia, China and the USA. Doesn’t really have the power to dictate even to France, say.

    Like his metaphor of the Left as an elephant opposed to the mere tiger of capitalism. That’s about right.

  5. Intriguing discussion. Thanks to you both.
    Consider this remark:
    “The transitional period is a mixture of private property on one hand and social property in another. If you want to be owners, you have money, but you don’t have political power. These are the rules of the game. And when we have socialism we don’t have owners of factories, we don’t have bourgeoisie, and we don’t have working class by the way. Socialism is abolition of the working class because we no longer have wage labor. And what is socialism without wage labor?”

    For the West, there is no transitional period. Everything has its price–air, water, soil. Wealth rules. I can see how this ends: societal, ecological, economic collapse. We are approaching the end of this insane experiment. Capital has seized all the instruments of power.
    Yet, even we could transition of a modified system, could we move to a classless society, a “socialism without wage labor”? Such a system requires far greater intelligence and kindness than humanity presently collectively demonstrates.

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