Sam Webb started the discussion with a piece he wrote in a recent issue of People's World. Among other points made, Sam said the following:
Soviet working people were not the authors of their own lives and the architects of their society in any deep sense. Despite the existence of local councils, trade unions and other organizations, political power wasn't really diffused to the various layers of society. Instead it was concentrated in the hands of the ruling Communist Party, and in too many instances employed arbitrarily. The party's near-monopoly of power foreclosed popular participation in and outside of the institutional structures of Soviet society.
You can read the entire article here.
Gary Hicks said much of what was on my mind when he wrote:
This article contains a lot of 1950s-1960s high-school Democracy versus Communism. I flunked that course and now I remember why. It explained nothing, caused me to zone out, not take notes on something my gut told me reeked of falsity. That being said, I'm willing to go with fighting for democracy and socialism in this bourgeois republic of which Ben Franklin quipped "if you can keep it".........this bourgeois republic of which President Lincoln said that "whenever a people grow weary of their government, they may exercise their democratic right to change it, or their revolutionary right to dismember and overthrow it." This seems to be in sync with Marx and Engels, when they wrote of the need for the revolution to "make despotic inroads" on capitalist property".
Trade unions and other civil society organizations probably do need more autonomy from political parties. Our Communist Party can set an example by advocating a process of dress rehearsal.....the liberation of trade unions, women's organizations, advocacy organizations, racial/ethnic advocacy groups......from the Democratic Party. Like the South African comrades once told their people and the world: socialism is the future, build it now.
Finally, the Soviet Union. This discourse and many others are able to take place because of the victory of the Red Army, and it's Supreme Commander, a certain Uncle of whom so, so many members of our family are embarassed. Those forces that put an end to the nazism on whose shoulders stood Jim Crow. My very ability as a black man to write items like this without penalty of physical extinction for being too uppity and worse still, red............I owe that ability to those folks of whom Bertolt Brecht wrote "in searching for kindness/could not ourselves be kind".
Thomas Kenney also spoke for much of my thinking when he wrote:
Sam Webb shows deep confusion. Here he uses the old social reformist standby of non-class definitions of democracy, that is, of democracy as synonymous with those formal processes (elections, etc.) acceptable to the bourgeoisie under normal conditions.
Sam also yields ground to the anti-Soviet and anti-Communist stereotypes still dominant in US political discourse. He alleges, as if it were self-evident, that deficiencies of Soviet democracy led to the downfall of the USSR.
That view is false and can be shown to be false, and in fact is now rejected by most parties in the world Communist movement.
What brought down the Soviet Union was primarily right opportunism and corruption that took root in Soviet society in the 30 years before 1985.
Books have been written on this, and I could suggest a few titles if asked, but a simple thought experiment suggests how obviously false Webb’s assertion is.
If lack of democracy brought Soviet socialism down, why didn’t the end of socialism and the USSR in 1991 bring about a new, restored "democratic" dispensation? In other words, if it was Soviet socialism holding back democratic development, why did not a sparkling “democracy” arise after 1991?
What did arise? The Soviet downfall brought to power in 1991 despotic, thieving oligarchs whose front men were Yeltsin and later Putin. All these were corrupt products of the dark recesses of the Soviet private, underground economy, which by 1985-91 penetrated even the upper reaches of the CPSU. That is why, after 1991, the former USSR became the heartland of a hideous gangster capitalism. To a great extent, it still is.
Survey after survey, even those conducted by Western conservative publications, suggest the peoples of the former USSR, now in their majority impoverished, know they were deceived. They say so to pollsters. They know their defeat has led to the de-modernization of their once prosperous country and to demographic collapse.
Sam Webb shoud re-read Lenin. Lenin demanded that every discussion of democracy should, for a Marxist, begin with the clarifying question: democracy for which class?
Even in its most hard-pressed moments of encirclement, invasion, and military pressure, the USSR was superior to the USA in real democracy, in class democracy, in worker political power, and in worker political participation.
Socialism means democracy for the many. Capitalism is democracy for the few.
But I'm really interested in what you think. Join the debate!