Lenin to Gorbachev: Three Generations of Soviet Communists
The quote by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles which introduces chapter one of this book, has a certain philosophical appeal, and yet it is cloaked in an irony that illustrates the dark side of what Marx and Engles were promoting. "In place of the old bourgeois society...we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." The word "free" is the irony, since the communist world as we knew it offered little choice or freedom for the masses, in terms of who their leaders would be or what direction their national life would take.
Meantime, the youthful Karl Marx seemed to be just an average college kid, as his drinking and poetry-writing in his first university experience turned 180 degrees at the University of Berlin, where he got his doctoral degree in philosophy. But he turned out to be anything but "average." Indeed, his studying under G.W.F. Hegel led him to the concept that the human race evolved "dialectically" and that there is a "contradiction" in society when some are wealthy and some are poor. This in turn led him to write radical political journalism - and be expelled from "several western European countries" as a result of his provocative views as a scribe.
As he grew in stature to a respected thinker, he more and more brought into his writings the changes needed within society's "economic forces" which he believed would re-shape the world (and create a universal communism). His writings had appeal, because he talked about how unfair it was for poor people to be carrying the load for "feudal lords" and rich "industrial capitalists." He laid out three important observations about productive forces, which were in a way the backbone of his philosophy: 1) the "relations of production" should support the "development of productive forces"; 2) those "relations of production" (how production is managed) in fact support "the superstructure of society...it's laws, government, religion, science, arts, philosophy, and ideology"; 3) and given numbers 1 and 2, there will inevitably be a "tug of war" between those "relations of production" and the "productive forces" - i.e., the workers themselves.
And then when those workers launch their "proletarian revolution," according to Marx, a socialist society would emerge as a transition to communism, and the "abolition of classes and class distinctions" would become reality.
Chapter 2 Summary
It is interesting that early in his career Lenin worked (as a lawyer) with the very Tsarist system he would later overthrow - and then fell out of favor, and was thrown out of that system, jailed, exiled, and disillusioned. Lenin later saw the dissatisfaction and frustration experienced by workers, and knew that serfdom must be ended, and the ideas of Marx seemed to Lenin to be the ripe seed for worker revolt.
Lenin's pamphlet, What Is To Be Done? - which altered Marxist views on the revolution needed - had a huge influence on the emergence of Russian socialism, because a "strong revolutionary press" was necessary to rally the support of workers, and "the police had spent... vast sums of money..." To suppress a radical press. The ideas espoused in that publication helped bring together the Second congress of intellectuals and workers (in Brussels, 1903), and though it resulted in few positive changes, Lenin's power grew.
Bloody Sunday" (1905) - the slaughter of hundreds of protesting workers by the Tsar's troops - helped radicalize the movement for socialism. And by spring of 1905, a general strike hit the nation, and resulted in "a modicum of political freedom" - but it also opened the door (a "dress rehearsal") for Lenin and his co-conspirators against the Tsar. Then, following the foment of WWI and chaos in the Tsarist government, on November 6-7, 1917, "the world's first successful workers' revolution" was launched. It was called the "October Revolution" and the Bolsheviks (along with other angry groups) seized Petrograd.
And when the new government Lenin had pushed for did not emerge as planned, he was "deeply troubled by the nature of the state he had helped to create." He died on January 21, 1923, and the Joseph Stalin era was ushered in.
Chapter 3 Summary
Stalin launched a new policy following Lenin's death - "Socialism in One Country" - which basically asserted that the U.S.S.R. could go it alone, without western help, because it had plenty of natural resources, manpower, and talent. This new USSR would serve as a model for other countries to follow. But though the gains of the "First Five-Year Plan" fell short of intended goals, and the "quality of products was uneven," Stalin's plan pushed the U.S.S.R. into the ranks of the world's "emerging economies."
When Stalin softened his hard line against peasants who wished to collectivize, and approved one acre for "kitchen gardens" for all peasant households, by 1933 the number of collectivized households jumped to 65%, and by 1936 it rose to more than 90%. But during the same time, Stalin was pushing industrialization, and it went through growing pains, but more growing pains were experienced in the late 1920s and early 1930s by those who deviated from the Party "line" - called the "Stalinist purges." Charges of "counter-revolution" and "sabotage" against innocents created a tidal wave of opposition to Stalin, but he pushed through a directive which basically gave the Commissariat of Internal Affairs" the authorization to "execute death sentences" against so-called criminals (who just simply deviated from the party line). During that purge some 17 high-ranking communist leaders were executed for plotting the death of Serge Kirov, a Leningrad Party leader.
A total of 35,000 executions (from Stalin purges) were carried out, according to data on page 104, involving Central Committee members and candidates, Party delegates and Politburo individuals.
After WWII, when Stalin teamed with the Western allies to beat Hitler, Stalin again launched another purge.
Chapter 4 Summary
Khrushchev, while breaking with the Stalin legacy, used a "vitriolic denunciation of Stalin" in a four hour meeting with high-ranking party officials to secure power in the post-Stalin era. Khrushchev also "excoriated Stalin for the enormous losses suffered by Soviet forces during the early years of World War II." Khrushchev blamed Stalin for "erroneous decisions that led to the slaughter of thousands of Soviet soldiers" in the early period of WWII - and he railed against Stalin for the "cult of the individual" that Stalin supposedly created.
The Seven-Year Plan of Khrushchev - which projected that "heavy industries such as oil, pig iron, and steel would almost double production by 1965" - envisioned an "aggregate total of housing...would be nine times larger than the sum for 1958." And when the Soviets launched the first satellite in the world (Sputnik I), Khrushchev bragged that the U.S.S.R. would pass Western nations in economic success. All this success would "bury" capitalist nations, and on top of that, Soviet workers would do all this with just a 35-hour work week. But all these predictions of grandiose success did not come through, and in addition, the foreign policy disaster of the Cuban Missile Crisis generated a tremendous amount of criticism at home. He was dumped by Party officials in 1964.
Khrushchev did, during his legacy, "halt the wave of police terror" that had been put in motion by Stalin, but otherwise, his legacy is one of unmet promises and failed policies intended to pump life into the Soviet economy.
Chapter 5 Summary
Following the fall of Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev expounded a policy of trying to provide Soviet citizens with enough food and clothing and housing, and to restore the agricultural system that was in place prior to Khrushchev. To the chagrin of communist officials, though the Soviet peasantry in the 1970s "tilled 70% more land [than American farmers] with seven times more manpower...it produced only four-fifths of the food." It did seem that Soviet farmers could have produced higher grain yields, though it is noted that Brezhnev procured "more for peasants than it was able to gain for urban workers."
And in addition, the Brezhnev policies created a negative effect for the Soviet economy.
Chapter 6 Summary
During the period following Brezhnev, the Soviets had a succession of leaders, beginning with Yuri Andropov, continuing with Konstatin Chernenko, and then, following Chernenko's death in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power. Gorbachev is known as the leader who assisted the Soviet Union into democracy from totalitarianism. His words, "Glasnost" ("openness") and "Perestroika" ("restructuring") pushed the transition into democracy that few in the Western world ever thought would occur.
Summary of the Book
What do the authors think of the Soviet Union? For starters, this book was written just as the Gorbachev changes were beginning to take hold. They ask, "Is Glasnost an indication of fundamental change in the economic and political structure in the country?" That is clearly a dated question. One would need to read a newer edition of this book to see how the authors react…