‘The Soviet Problem’ in Post-Soviet Russian Marxism, or the Afterlife of the USSR

In: Historical Materialism
Vladimir Tikhonov Professor, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo Oslo Norway

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The present article deals with different Marxist theories on the Soviet experience, which emerged in post-Soviet Russophone Marxist or neo-Marxist scholarship (concurrently with some reference to Marxist traditions in other former Eastern Bloc countries). The article demonstrates that these theories – if we leave the remaining ‘Marxist-Leninists’ of the classical Soviet type aside and focus on critical, post-Soviet Marxism – may be classified as either ‘fundamentally rejectionist’ or ‘Thermidorian’. The former, in line with the seminal criticisms of K. Kautsky and other early opponents of Lenin, reject the socialist nature of the October 1917 Revolution outright. The latter mostly define the Revolution as at least socialist-oriented, but further bifurcate into different varieties of the ‘state capitalism’ thesis with a number of theorists defining Stalinist societies as special varieties of post-revolutionary industrialism essentially different from orthodox capitalism. Most critical post-Soviet Marxists agree, however, that the main vector of Soviet-type regimes’ evolution indeed pointed towards increased class stratification. However, it should be remembered that Soviet-type bureaucracy was a class-in-the-making rather than a class-in-itself or a class-for-itself, and this point is further elaborated in the works of those theorists who prioritise the differences rather than similarities between Soviet-type industrialism and orthodox capitalism.

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