Did the USA lose the Cold War?

"The SWP has some very odd ideas on the former Soviet Union."

The justification of the Barnes "The West Lost" position bases itself on the fact that the CP governments were not overthrown by Western military intervention, but by mass movements(The Yeltsin resistance to the coup, Solidarity in Poland etc.)

So, the theory goes, now the task of the West is to move in militarily and wipe out the foundations of the workers states that still exist, since the workers were not physically crushed.

The problem with this theory for me is that the masses in Russia and Eastern Europe did not line up behind conscious Marxists or even a radicalized class conscious workers movement. They followed a "democratic" wing of the bureaucracy whose real interest was to dump the structures of socialism and privatise the economy right into their own pockets. This they did. Thus the social and economic disaster we see today.

Rather than the workers taking the offensive to deepen the socialist character of these societies, they are engaged in a defensive struggle against ever increasing capitalist encroachment. Cuba, whose government still seeks to hold the line, was left to fill the gaps left by the collapse of the SU with capitalist investments.

A "defeat" of the West in the Soviet Union would have been the insurgent creation of a working class government that would have increased aid to countries like Cuba, not cut it off.

The SWP position does highlight in some ways the contradictions of the "Victory of the West." Now that the CP governments are gone, the "commies" can't be blamed for every problem in Russia and Eastern Europe. The workers now must face the capitalist system directly, without the shield of the old paternal Soviet state. The victors, as usually happens, now fall out over the spoils. Workers struggle has and will ensue as a result. Western military intervention very well may happen.

But to call this sequence of events a "Defeat for Western Imperialism" is a mistake, of the whistle past the graveyard variety. I think the position was adopted partly to fight the demoralization of the troops. I don't know that this was very successful.

You also have to ask the question, if the west was defeated, why hasn't there been a big upsurge in socialist recruitment in the US generally and the SWP specifically? Wouldn't this logically flow from victory?

Just some of my thinking on the subject, after a few years contemplation of events.

Jon Flanders


I see no good coming by blaming the Russian working class for the fact that the option of capitalism looked so much more attractive than socialism. For seventy years the word 'socialism' had been identified in practice with economic misery and state repression. No amount of pleading about false consciousness can explain way the fact that Russian workers turned their back on this so-called workers' state.

Jim Heartfield


Yes, indeed, and the sweeping away of that state repression in the form of the USSR and the Stalinist regimes in its satellite states was therefore a good thing on several counts. First, the doing away of a repressive regime is in itself a good, what comes after notwithstanding. Who among us, for example, mourns Suharto because we don't like Habibie? Secondly, the breaking of the USSR's stranglehold on Eastern Europe and the eventual breakup of the USSR itself, allowed a historical wrong to be righted: the adherence by force of nations to the USSR. Now, any association, between the countries would be hopefully vaoluntary, as the original USSR was supposed to be, and not based on the presence of the Red Army. This opens the way for the rebirth of internationalism in that part of the world. Thirdly, it does sweep away the facade that the CPSU is to be entirely blamed for the ills of society. Capitalism must now confront the workers of the East without the CPSU as an intermediary filter. Finally, it the break up of the political regime in the USSR and eastern bloc allowed for the introduction Marxism to those areas in the form of Trotsky, Che, etc. and for once, Soviet citizens can come face to face with Lenin, Marx, and other revolutionaries' writings without and "official" line to meadiate and interpret for them. One can only hope that in so doing they may find the experience as salutary, radical, and liberating as Reformation-era Christians did when reading the Bible on their own for the first time.

For reasons such as these, those of us who were in and around the SWP in that period of time rejoiced at the break up of the USSR, while we also couldn't help but feel pangs of regret at seing Lenin statues pulled down. Do those reasons imply that imperialism was defeated in the east? The SWP says yes; I'm not so sure.

However, consider that while the political regime was swept away, socialist property relations were not done away with it. Deep inroads have been made and severe rollbacks have taken place, but not without opposition. Soviet citizens were willing to mobilize to do away with the regime, but have also been willing to mobilize to defend tmany of the gains of October such as state enterprise, health benefits, etc. --even if they do not see it as such. Indeed, not to long ago, on this list someone argued that Russia had never made the transition to capitalism. If not, then does it not follow that by and large socialist norms survive and predominate at some level? Conterrevolution has not been successful, then.

Juan Fajardos


Actually I don't think the Russian - Soviet, really - working class had much of a say in things. Polls showed repeatedly that there was no popular interest in embracing capitalism, even in Eastern Europe; as one pro-capitalist Hungarian politician lamented to the American journalist Jonathan Schell in 1994, they wanted socialism without the torture cells. Today, polls of Russians show a great nostalgia for the Soviet days; one reported recently on Johnson's Russia List showed popular approval for the sentiment that the USSR's rulers were "close to the people." The turn to capitalism was mainly a decision by the nomenklatura, who obviously weren't very close to the people on this one.

Doug Henwood


Re the West Lost.

Apparently not all Barnesite lieutenants went along with this. I believe it was just too much for Brian Grogan, the British leader, to swallow. Of course, disagreeing with Barnes, he could no longer be contained in the cult. I think a whole chunk of the leadership of British CL has gone.

The problem that the West faces is that the end of the Cold War has brought all the problems of the advanced capitalist countries to the fore. These were suppressed during the Cold War which was also, certainly for the first 25 years, also the period of the postwar boom.

The American elite have been frantically looking for some new external enemy to replace the Soviet Union, both to help cohere a fragmenting US society behind them and also as a way of reasserting US hegemony globally. They seem to be having a lot of problems finding/inventing such an enemy. Unfortunately the people of Iraq, Serbia, Haiti, Somalia and all the other places the US has intervened in and bombed etc since the end of the Cold War are bearing the cost.

Philip Ferguson