• Post-Soviet Critical Marxism

  • Por Alexander Buzgalin | 20 May 09
  • The Systemic Crisis of Capitalism and a New Understanding of Global Prerequisites for Socialism of the 21st Century



    Contradictions of Soviet Marxism and post-Soviet Marxism

    Unfortunately, after the collapse of the USSR, Russia became a semi-peripheral country in many ways: economically, politically, and socially – and also theoretically. For left scholars this situation was extremely dramatic, because we suffered (and in many ways still are suffering) from a double oppression: We are very oppressed by mainstream neoliberal ideology and theory and we are very isolated from Western Marxism and other left theories. Moreover, we had the very contradictory legacy of Soviet “Marxism-Leninism”.

    At the same time we had some positive ingredients for a successful development. The most important among these were the creativity found in the works of critical, anti-Stalinist Soviet Marxism developed by scholars who are not well-known in the West (such as Evald Ilienkov, Mikhail Lifshitz and others).

    On this basis, and on the basis of the modern limited albeit existing dialogue with Western colleagues, a school of post-Soviet critical marxism was developed during last seventeen years. 

    The organisational basis for us is mainly the left theoretical quarterly “Alternatives”, published regularly for more than seventeen years now, and the Russian Social Movement (which supports “Alternatives”’s social initiatives), integrated very closely with other new social movements in the framework of the Russian Social Forum. 

    Our school is characterised by its adhesion to the well-known principles of socialism (as a new type of society, personality and development), democracy (with an emphasis on grassroots democracy, human rights and on social movements as institutions of self-management, and also on economic self-management) and internationalism. Of course, our orientation is based on the dialectical analysis of the Soviet system, which had very deep contradictions, but not only negative features.

    All this is simple and not original for the West, but in Russia this is something special.

    Main theoretical ideas of the school

    From our point of view the material preconditions for the birth of a new society are interconnected with a negation of the whole world of alienation, in all its forms, not only capitalism. Within the context of this problem, overcoming two limited approaches to the analysis of such preconditions takes on fundamental importance. Analyses of the society of the future as “anti-capitalism” (Stalinism) and as reformed capitalism have both outlived their usefulness. At the same time, both these approaches contain positive aspects. Capitalism needs to be removed through the unity of a qualitative, revolutionary negation (of exploitation and so forth), and of succession (of material and intellectual culture). 

    From this stems a conclusion which is rarely stressed even by modern Marxism: the left is faced with the task of doing away (by means of both reform and revolution) not only with capitalism, but also with the whole society of alienation, and with all the forms and mechanisms of alienation.

    The preconditions for such a new society (“the realm of freedom”, the post-economic world, “communism”), extend far beyond the process of the socialisation of production and the development of the class of wage workers. The minimum requirements include:

    l the shift to the predominance of creative activity; the creation of a world of culture, and the consigning of material production to a secondary level; and the shift to a dialogue with nature and to a “nous-sphere” type of development;

    l the development of various forms of association of workers and citizens; the development of their capacities for social creativity, and of their experience of transforming social relations (their experience in the struggle for their rights, for self-organisation and so forth, for the development of their “social muscle”); 

    l the accumulation and mastering by working people of the wealth of human culture, without which creative activity in general and social creativity in particular are impossible (this thesis, which was already stressed by Lenin, has only a very pale reflection in present-day Marxism, which often forgets this question). 

    The key parameter and measure of development of the new society is no longer the replacement of private by state ownership, but the process of free association (the self-organisation of citizens and their self-management), deploying people’s social creativity in all its diversity of forms (from innovations by a trade union activist or teacher, through the activity of mass democratic organisations, to the revolutionary transformation of society). So, social associated creativity is the only really dialectical manner of negation of the “realm of necessity” and alienation as the general form of its existence.

    Modern global crisis: Russian “capitalism’s Jurassic Park” as caricature of modern world capitalism

    On the basis of the method outlined above we analysed, in particular, the essence of the modern world crisis as both (1) a capitalist crisis and (2) the crisis of the capitalist model of sunset of the “realm of necessity” as a whole. At a lower level of abstraction the elements of the crisis are:

    First, new specific forms of over-accumulation of capital (the main reason for the crisis in capitalism), interconnected with financialisation, deregulation and the development of the production of various fictitious goods (“simulacra”). 

    Second, the crisis of the attempts of “late capitalism” to find efficient and adequate forms of development of post-industrial technologies, “knowledge society” and the solution to global problems.

    This crisis has assumed extremely brutal forms in Russia, which has become capitalism’s Jurassic Park, a caricature of the world’s capitalist crisis.


    Abstract of talk given at a seminar organised by Espaces Marx, March 4, 2009.