Clause4.com is the personal blog of Steve Paxton, author of two forthcoming titles for Zero Books. Unlearning Marx – Why the Soviet Failure was a Triumph for Marx is due out in January 2021, and will be followed in the summer of 2021 (hopefully) by Unlearning Progress – Why Equality is the New Prosperity.
Historical Materialism – Karl Marx’s Theory of History – provides unique insights into our current situation, but before we can convince a wider audience to take this seriously we must dispel the myths about the relationship between Marx and the Soviet Union. As it happens, in doing so, we find that Marx’s approach, stripped of Bolshevik interpretation and applied to the rise and fall of the Soviet empire reveals a much clearer understanding of the place of the USSR in world history:
Unlearning Marx – Why the Soviet Failure was a Triumph for Marx
Reviews of Unlearning Marx… (more details)
“Reclaims a vital part of humanity’s conceptual toolbox
Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Jerusalem, Promethea…
“Steve Paxton brings a rare clarity of critical perspective to the
complexities of Soviet history”
Professor of Contemporary History, University of Michigan
The theories of Karl Marx and the practical existence of the Soviet Union are inseparable in the public imagination, but for all the wrong reasons. This book provides detailed analyses of both Marx’s theory of history and the course of Russian and Soviet development and delivers a new and insightful approach to the relationship between the two.
Marx laid down a set of criteria without which socialist revolutions could not succeed and in the 1880s he warned Russian revolutionaries that a socialist revolution in backward Russia would be doomed to failure. That the Soviet Union was unable to create a viable and genuinely socialist system supports this approach.
But Marx further identified specific requirements for the development of capitalism, which (this work demonstrates) also had not been met in Russia in 1917 – capitalism in Russia could not develop since these essential preconditions did not exist. Following the Bolshevik revolution the Soviet regime, regardless of it’s stated aims, was permanently hamstrung by circumstances and forced to adopt policies based not on ideology but on survival. The eventual – unintentional – outcome of 75 years of Soviet rule was the creation of all the requirements Marx listed as necessary for the emergence of capitalism. When the Soviet Union finally collapsed under the weight of its inefficiency, the oligarchs swept in and Russian capitalism was born.
Most analyses of the Soviet Union, from any perspective, focus on trying to explain the failure to establish socialism – giving too much weight to the political pronouncements of the regime but, for Marx, this approach to historical explanation is back-to-front – it’s the political tail wagging the economic dog. When we move our focus from the stated aims of building socialism, and look at what actually happened in Russia from emancipation in the 1860s through the Soviet era to the 1990s we can clearly see the patterns which Marx identified as the essential features of the transition from feudalism to capitalism in England from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth. As such, the Soviet experiment forms an important part of Russia’s transition from feudalism to capitalism and provides an excellent example of the underlying forces at play in the course of historical development.
How well this analysis fits with Marx’s broader theory of history is closely examined and the results will surprise many of Marx’s admirers, as much as his detractors.