Socialism Betrayed: the Causes of the Collapse of the USSR by Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny,
Review article and interview by Jean Christophe Grellety
February 17, 2013 – www. Mediapart.fr
Translated Nov. 25, 2013
Le Socialisme Trahi was launched at the Fete D’Humanite, Sept. 2012 by Editions Delga, Paris.
This 330-page book published by Editions Delga was written by two US citizens, Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny. Roger Keeran teaches history at the State University of New York and Thomas Kenny is an economist.
In the dialectic of human and historical phenomena, one must conclude that the best specialists in Soviet history are American.
The contradiction is only apparent. Indeed, because of the history of the “Cold War,” because of the ideology of the anti-Communist US superstructure (McCarthy; the CIA until after Reagan ), it is in that very country that thousands of men and women who scrutinized, studied, and spied on the former USSR have amassed the documents.
You have to imagine what it may means for a US citizen such as Roger Keeran to dare to contradict all the fascist propaganda which for decades denigrated and insulted the main leaders of the former Soviet Union, starting with Stalin.
And France? In France, an “orthodoxy” was forged. The decades solidified it, to the point it that it was in the history books, textbooks, television and radio programs , namely to know, one, that a Stalin was a monster, two, that the former Soviet Union collapsed because it was a sterile systemic failure and, three, that it was comparable to Nazism a totalitarian regime, etc. And in these places, there is the claim that Stalin was shocked and taken aback by the German attack of June 21-22, 1941 .
Whatever the case against it, or even within it, the former Soviet Union suffered the effects of sectarian-religious Manicheanism. With McCarthyism, the FBI and the CIA were agents of good fighting against evil. The Good Empire (U.S. capitalism) was fighting against the Evil Empire. When the USSR existed, everything was justified, including the end justifies the means …
After the downfall of the USSR, in 2000-2010 Bushism again served up this deadly intellectual poison, warming up the old dishes. But as time passes, the more simplistic justifications of US domestic and foreign policy “go down harder,” or do not go down at all.
Now, the “enemy” no longer exists. Bin Laden was killed, and Al Qaeda is a shadowy, broken remnant that can inflict only mosquito bites. The time has come finally to create a historiography elevated, serious, whose elements can serve the new conditions, which so many citizens of the world wish for and prepare for.
Ideologues absolutely for and absolutely against will be wrong. The former will be disappointed that Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny demonstrate that the policy of the CPSU was never a bed of roses, as various political currents even antagonisms are encountered, and that some “Communists” (because they had a map of the CPSU) shared neither the desire nor the enthusiasm nor the will to build and develop a Communist world.
The latter will have to accept (let them rebut with evidence, if they have any), that the USSR was long an economic and political system that worked and succeeded, even partially. They sneer at these partial results. They will have to explain to us why the capitalist countries of the West have also had some “partial” positive results throughout the 20th century (examples include unemployment, misappropriation of public and private funds, endangering the lives of others in a dangerous world of production, as evidenced by the issue of asbestos, etc.) Why are these results understandable and acceptable?
Serious historiography transcends “good” and “evil.” This has nothing to do with “amoral” history , one with no consideration of good and evil , but has to do with a disinterested history, and whether to denounce a Hollywood farce worthy of Disney, a history that counterposes American saints to Soviet devils. The reverse is equally delusional. In this book, the authors deal extensively with conditions and effects of Soviet policy under Khrushchev, which they perceive as harmful to a successor, Gorbachev. They do not just not assert; they prove with facts and figures.
The pages which concern Andropov are probably the most original. His place at the head of the USSR was very short because of his illness and his death. The classic caricatures make him out to be an “apparatchik” type, senile and crazy, which, according to a U.S. expert high up in the CIA, is totally untrue. The CIA regarded him as a brilliant, dangerous leader – for ther CIA.
Pages on the “second economy” (the illegal economy) are, though brief, important because they show that, what other countries have called a “dictatorship” was hardly “dictatorial, given the permanence of this mafia–type economy, trafficking, and theft — punished and controlled under Stalin, unbridled and protected under Khrushchev and Gorbachev.
The last half of the book is devoted to the final period: the decline and the destruction of the USSR by the deeds of a part of its elites, and against the majority will of the Soviet people who even today, bitterly regret the disappearance of this state and the regime that brought their standard of living, education, long years of schooling, social mobility, conditions of life unique in the world, and free.
Since ancient Greece, the problem of choice of the main leader has been fundamental. We know that, for the USSR, the choice of Stalin was good, because he contributed to a victory that others would never have succeeded in achieving. Conversely, the choice of Gorbachev was disastrous, because they were unable to stop him in time. Gorbachev proved a total traitor. In obliterating the Soviet Union on the international scene, the leaders of the United States no longer have an “enemy,” according to their own vocabulary. They can no longer justify global problems by attributing them to others, including the USSR.
But since the demise of the USSR, world problems — have they decreased or increased? And they if they have lessened, where? For whom? Why? And if they increased, where? For whom? Why?
Let each answer, according to his needs.
Which in your eyes were the most important leaders whether positively in construction, or negatively in shaping a regime too militaristic and too militarized?
The Soviet Union had a team of leaders who were extraordinarily able for the first forty years. All officials deserve mention for the construction of socialism, especially industrialization of the country from the First Five Year Plan in 1928, the collectivization of agriculture, the development of social programs such as free health care and free education in 1930, the victorious conduct of the Second World War, and the reconstruction of the country in five years after the war.
Of course, no one deserves more credit for the work that the leader of the party and the country, Joseph Stalin. Two other officials, whose contributions were great, were Lazar Kaganovich, who oversaw the construction of the Moscow Metro and Vyacheslav Molotov, who oversaw the Soviet war effort.
We do not share the assumption on which the second part the question is based that the Soviet Union was “too militaristic, too militarized.”
If you mean that socialism suffered because the Soviet Union had devote too many resources to military defense, it’s probably true. However, if one takes into account the hostile environment in which the Soviet Union lived, then the level of militarization was understandable.
No doubt you know of the work of Domenico Losurdo on Stalin. We are witnessing the last few years a pushback from historians, who no longer accept the dictates of right-wing and anti-Communists, whose work sheds light on a key leader .
An evaluation of the role of Stalin is too big and too difficult to undertake here. We agree that a re-evaluation of Stalin is of vital importance because of the lies and distortions that began in the supposedly “secret” 20th Congress Khrushchev speech and perpetuated by a legion of historians, journalists and ideologues of the Cold War. Many historians have begun this task. Besides the book by Losurdo, we can cite the work of contemporary historians Geoffrey Roberts, J. Arch Getty and Roberta Manning, and Wendy Goldman. There are also books on Stalin by Kenneth Cameron, the book of Felix Chuev (Molotov Remembers ) and the book by Grover Furr (Khrushchev Lied) .
In addition to the political and economic phenomena that your work analyses what does it say about the weakness of Communist thought even within the USSR, in particular through its scholarly transmission?
We agree. As we noted in the book, there was a weakness in the development of the theory and ideology of Marxism-Leninism under Khrushchev and Brezhnev. This weakness is reflected in Yuri Andropov’s criticisms. It is also reflected in the inability of most Soviet economists to recognize the growth of the second economy and the danger it represented. Also, this weakness is reflected in the willingness of many academics (as Abel Abanbegyan) to espouse capitalist ideas.
One of the original things about your work is that you speak of the unknown Andropov who failed to play a saving role for the USSR. What kind of man was he? What are the most important points of his policies in the brief time he had?
The important thing about Yuri Andropov, and others like Yegor Ligachev, is that they show that, even in the mid-1980s, the Soviet system had some vitality. Also, it produced leaders and thinkers who understood the problems faced by Soviet socialism. These leaders and thinkers had a vision of what Soviet socialism could become, and they had specific policies to move the country forward. Unfortunately, the ascendancy of Gorbachev and the destruction of the Soviet Union have obscured this truth.
Hereditary enemies of Bolshevism and Communism take October Revolution to task in its initial victory and its later development, for its “violence.” For the future, is it possible to conceive of a non-violent revolution (whether or not it be made from Gandhism). And, please, do you think the violence is so pivotal in United States history (the system that faced the USSR), which was so esteemed by comparison with the USSR which was so underesteemed? Why so much intransigence against the USSR and such mildness for the United States?
It would be absurd to pretend that in the future a peaceful socialist revolution is impossible. Historical development can surprise us. The recent changes in Tunisia and Egypt illustrate that message.
Yet it would be foolish to underestimate the ruthlessness of the ruling class of the United States. From atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the recent invasions and drone attacks, the ruling class has shown its willingness to use any form of violence to defend its interests.
It is true that many are willing to overlook the violence of the United States and same time condemn the violence of the Russian Revolution. This shows the success of bourgeois hegemony, an ideology that considers violence to continue imperialism as normal, but considers any threat to private property with horror.
Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny
This review appeared in French in February 2013 in Literary Action