Bertell Ollman's definition of the USSR

for what it's worth: the Spring 1981 issue (vol. 13, no. 1) of *Review of Radical Political Economics* was a special issue on the \ character of Soviet society...

Bertell Ollman used to argue that the Soviet Union was neither socialist nor capitalist, neither a democracy nor a dictatorship, neither a workers' state nor a bureaucratic state as these characterizations are generally understood, but contained elements of all of these...he referred to this combination as a 'regency of the proletariat'...his model was the regency of an earlier time when an established politician wielded power in the name of a still too young monarch...though all effective power was in the regent's hands, his legitimacy rested on his relation to the king, whom everyone, including the regent, considered to be the rightful ruler...as the young king grew up and became capable of governing on his own, the regent had two choices: either hand over power to the king or eliminate him and assume power in his own name...

Ollman suggested that concept of regency made clear that the only rightful possessor of power, according to the prevailing ideology, was the proletariat; that this power had been exercised for them, and presumably in their interests, by the Communist Party; that the entire basis of the Party's legitimacy laid in its special relationship to the workers; that this relationship evolved into something different than it was at the start; and that with these changes, the Soviet regent, the Communist Party, had to decide whether to hand over power to the workers or to eliminate them, not physically, but politically and ideologically...

just a thought, Michael Hoover


The problem with Ollman's notion is that it reduces leninist political practice down to a mannheimian functionalism of power and it reduces marxist conceptions of the proletariat as a self-constituting historical subject down to an equally wretched, paralytic Parsonsian functionalist sociology of class. Ollman leaves out the interconnectedness of history and the specific ways in which the USSR was the product of the (national, oligarchic, technological/industrial) involution in a revolution which could and can only have real meaning (or avoid that fate) as world revolution. In other words, Ollman ignores the historicla circumstances of containment and indeed ignores the gritty intractable facts of capitalist reality which however the Bolsheviks did not. Not much of a marxist, is he? He'd have been a godamn SR centrist in 1917. People like Ollman cannot make revolutions. I detested his alienation book when it came out 30 or so years ago and I still have never understood what anyone sees in his work.

Mark Jones