Revisionism and the Process of Capitalist Restoration

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KitchenDebateBy Alfonso Casal. Originally published at The Red Phoenix.

[Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. VP Richard Nixon debate the merits of communism versus capitalism in a model American kitchen at the American National Exhibition in Moscow (July 1959) – photo by Thomas J. O’Halloran, Library of Congress collection.]

[M]ost people reading this can agree on two incontestable facts: namely, that in 1956 a revisionist clique headed by Nikita Khrushchev took control of the Soviet party and state; and in 1991, the Soviet Union was dismembered and dissolved, and capitalism fully reestablished in its former territories. Our theoretical disagreements center on what happened between those two points. There are two antipodal, yet equally erroneous views that one often hears regarding what happened during those three decades. The first, which corresponds to a sort of primitive Maoism, is that Khrushchev made his speech at the 20th Party Congress and, from that moment on, the Soviet Union became capitalist and social-imperialist. The other view which others have proposed is that a revisionist cabal came to power in 1956 and, somehow for some reason, this revisionist cabal initiates no revisionist polices and in no way effects the nature of Soviet society, which continues to be socialist until it inexplicably collapses in 1991. Both these views are idealist, unsubtle, and un-Marxist; what they both have in common is no understanding of the dialectical process involved in revisionism and the restoration of capitalism.

What follows is not a position paper, or a finalized dissertation, but rather a thesis on how revisionism leads to the complete and total restoration of capitalism. This takes place in three phases: 1. before the revisionist coup; 2. revisionism in power; and 3. the final restoration of capitalism. My observation are mainly based on the Soviet experience, but I have chosen to present them in general terms as I think the steps involved are widely applicable.

1. Before the Revisionist Coup

Revisionism doesn’t just appear overnight. Revisionist tendencies and groupings will have to have existed within the Marxist-Leninist party for quite some before the revisionists are strong enough to seize power. Very likely, there has been a long history of political struggle within the party against these forces. However, considering that the revisionists are not going to openly proclaim their ultimate ends, it’s very possible that the party conducted a campaign against this or that trend or deviation, weakness or problem, without being fully aware of the true magnitude of the threat. Moreover, unless the revisionists embark on criminal or treasonable activity – and they may well do so – the party rank and file, not to mention the masses of the general population, may have no clear idea of what’s going on. Here the memoirs of Enver Hoxha are invaluable for understanding the behind-the-scenes nature of revisionism at this stage. Hoxha’s writings provide a rare inside view on these developments.

Revisionism itself can spring from many sources: elements whose stated goal is the restoration of capitalism (these often working in collusion with imperialist agencies), party members who, for whatever reason, have become disgruntled or disillusioned, and those without adequate ideological grounding. It should be noted that the revisionists will harp on every mistake, every weakness, every delay, every struggle, and every problem faced by the party and try to turn these to their own advantage, thus spreading ideological confusion in the party rank and file. This period could last for many years before some enabling event, some catalyst (such as the death of a revered and respected party leader) provides the revisionists with the opportunity to make a bid for power.

2. Revisionism in Power

Should the revisionists succeed in taking control of the leading offices in the party and state, their initial position is by no means secure. The revisionists are not going to just proclaim that capitalism is restored. Instead, they will present their policies as “a new period,” “rectification of past errors,” “socialism with a human face” or some such thing. As such, the damage this can do and the utter chaos this can spread in the party cannot be under-emphasized. Remember the revisionists are now in control of the party leadership and speak with the voice of the party. Some party members will embrace revisionism, either because they secretly harbored such views themselves or because they cannot imagine that their party will betray them. Others, perhaps the majority, will be bewildered and confused not knowing what to make of what they now hear coming from the “leadership.” These will be either seduced or coerced into falling in line. Still other party members will remain firm in their Marxist-Leninist convictions and resist; some may be deceived as to the true nature of the new regime and support it at first only to go into resistance when the truth becomes apparent. In any case, these will be isolated and destroyed. Once the revisionist clique has secured its control over the party, then its general offensive can begin.

This will rarely be an all-out assault on socialism. Rather, as a predator invariably chooses the most vulnerable member of the herd to attack, the revisionists will concentrate their efforts on those areas of society that are either:

1. Central to the success of their project – i.e. the economy. The entire revisionist project depends on the successful overturn of socialist economic structures. Agriculture and heavy industry are targeted first; and it is remarkable the speed with which a managerial “new class,” a new bourgeoisie, emerges.

2. Directly under their authority and control – i.e. the military and foreign policy. If anything, military and foreign policy are placed on a social-imperialist course even faster than the economic reversal. The reason for this is very simple, the army and the foreign ministry are under the direct command of the revisionist leadership.

3. Ideologically weakest and most susceptible – i.e. the cultural arena. A rapid reemergence of bourgeois cultural forms and content takes place. This is a central support to the revisionist ideological offensive.

The last facet of the formerly socialist society to be dismantled will be social programs such as education, health care, pensions, leisure activities, etc. For political reasons and reasons of expediency, the revisionists will steer clear of attacking these at first. Obviously, the working class would react powerfully to such an attack. Social programs will be the final piece to fall. This entire process could take decades.

So, can it be said that while this process is underway the state is still “socialist?” No. As Stalin points out, what is important in examining any society is to see which social forces, trends or tendencies are in the ascendant, which forces are rising. Here it is capitalism that is rising, and with each passing day the state is less and less “socialist.” One might perhaps argue that such a society is in a transitional period – in transition from socialism back to capitalism. Perhaps, but at what point does one draw the line? Where is the balance tipped? At what point does quantity turn into quality? Once the revisionist process of capitalist restoration has been grounded, despite being in a transitional phase, the state can no longer be described as “socialist.”

3. The Final Restoration of Capitalism

As I noted above, this process can takes decades to unfurl. However, at some point the formerly socialist state has become capitalist in all but name – de facto, if not de jure. The very nature of capitalism itself produces competitive and mutually hostile capitalist forces. Some will want to accelerate the final restoration (often wishing to encourage foreign imperialist investment), others will want to proceed at a more cautious rate. These will come into conflict. What needs to be recognized, though, is that what we see at the moment of full and complete capitalist restoration is not a showdown between those who wish to salvage socialism and those who wish to install capitalism. Rather, a battle emerges between two equally capitalist groups over the rate and extent of the restoration. Socialism or capitalism isn’t what’s being fought over here. The battle for socialism was lost a long time ago. This is just a capitalist dogfight.

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