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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 1

Need to Redefine Socialism after the Collapse of the Soviet Union

Tuesday 25 December 2007, by Chaturanan Mishra


[(This article has been written with a view to stimulate discussion on the subject. —Editor)]


The Soviet Union was a great source of inspiration not only for Communists but millions of people outside the fold of Communists as well. Its collapse has created deep confusion among Communists and non-Communists with the widespread belief that socialism has failed. This is one of the main reasons for the setback of Communists and even faithlessness amongst the Communists. On the November Revolution day this year it was expected of Communist leaders to say something new for the renewal of socialism, in fact to redefine socialism itself as the Soviet-type socialism had failed. It is said that different countries will have different characteristics of socialism. The Chinese emphasise the special characteristics of Chinese socialism. This is logical but despite this there must be some common basis of socialism, by which it becomes easier for the common man to understand socialism.

The old basic point was that in socialism the working class would be so matured that it will run the state and the industries. The working class nowhere in the world is showing this maturity. On other hand where individual gangsters were occupying the Soviet industries, the working class was just looking on and not intervening at all. The dictatorship of the proletariat as a theory failed. It became one-party rule. To my thinking, there are such features as employment for all, housing for all, education for all, medical aid for all, and old-age pension for all which are the contributions of Soviet socialism and these must be common in all socialist countries. One more important contribution of the Soviet system was the limit of difference between the lowest paid and highest paid. In view of the abnormally high salaries of the executives of the corporate sector it has become essential to have this in socialism.

Public sector alone is unable to create a high rate of GDP. The GDPs of China, India, Pakistan, Argentina—all developing countries—are high because of partnership with the private sector. A socialist-oriented country, Venezuela, has also a high rate of GDP that is, 8.9 per cent. All these figures are from the November 10 issue of the Economist. This means developing countries need the use of the corporate sector and multinationals. China has three times more multinationals than India. If multinationals and the corporate sector remain then it cannot be called socialism. It seems our old slogan “dhan aur dharti but ke rahegi” was premature. The Chinese experience from the decisions of the Third Plenary Session of 16th CPC Central Committee regarding the use of shareholding is the following:

Widely adopt the shareholding system to develop the economy with mixed ownership; adopt the shareholding system’s capital organisation form and way of operation while establishing new enterprises in future; and develop shareholding enterprises with the state capital as controlling shares or as shareholders.

Improve corporate governance to the management of enterprises.
Establish and improve a modern property right system and deepen the reform of state owned assets management system.

All these need substantial changes in our company laws.

Another point is to heavily tax the profits of the corporate sector and multinationals as in Sweden and Norway etc. but to remain competitive with the use of high technologies.

In this connection deep study is needed on how Stalin, without the help of foreign capital or the corporate sector, succeeded in developing Russia in just twenty years to make it able to fight and defeat Hitler Germany. In this period, beginning from the Revolution days, the people and the working class were highly politicised and energetic. In the first fifteen years after the Second World War the economies of the socialist camp grew considerably faster than the West.

Soviet socialism had a deficit of democracy. The 1936 Constitution was democratic but it was not implemented. Democratic centralism became only centralism. Neither did the Opposition enjoy the right to organise nor was there freedom of speech or free judiciary etc. The united CPI in its Amritsar Congress in 1958 decided that our socialism will have democracy, right of Opposition, freedom of speech and free judiciary etc. which the Chinese don’t have. When Lenin decided about dictatorship of the proletariat I think it was for a short period to fight the counter-revolution. A hundred years have passed since then and the democratic consciousness of the people has increased considerably. Moreover Russia and China had no democratic tradition as we have now. Many countries in the world, except the Islamic countries in the Arab world, have democracy. This should not be lost sight of as the growing tendency across the global is of democracy.

In socialism there should be freedom to organise free trade unions and the right to strike. There should be workers’ participation in management and annual plans to raise productivity. There should be trade unions and consumers’ joint forum to see that high price is not charged for higher profits but at the same time to be competitive in foreign trade. The housing of workers and welfare measures should be run by the trade unions. Every two years there should be election of trade unions by an independent trade union election body.

The Soviet economy was highly centralised and because of this local or personal initiatives were lacking. Our socialism should be decentra-lised with adequate power to the States, districts and panchayats—the chaukhambha raj—all elected. There should be strong audit and inspection at all levels to check corruption.

In socialism also there was corruption. In China too they are fighting corruption. Hence at the district level there should be anti-corruption tribunals and at the Central and State levels independent anti-corruption institutes should be there to get reports from the CBI and IB and reputed NGOs.

A socialist country should never militarily intervene or attack any country as the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia or Hungary. It earned a bad name for the Soviets and led to heavy economic loss and competition in armaments which became one of the main causes of the Soviet collapse. The Chinese did well by withdrawing from the Indian border after the Sino-Indian war and from Vietnam following its aborted invasion of that country. We have seen how the Chinese military intervention changed the goodwill of Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai to antagonism.

Earlier the distribution of the feudal lords’ land was very popular. The Soviet Union forcibly established collective farms and state farms, which proved to be an utter failure. In China also farmers’ land, taken away during the Cultural Revolution of Mao, had to be returned. In India as the majority of the population is dependent upon agriculture no such attempt should be made in socialism. Nandigram has taught us a lesson. The socialist state should help farmers, particularly the marginal and small farmers and agricultural workers, in such a way that their income becomes comparable to other affluent sections of the people. To establish large-scale food industries in rural areas the government and corporate sector should help. Special institutions should be set up to organise village-wise irrigation, supply of high yielding seeds and pesticides. The annual plan for raising productivity of land must be there. Reasonable prices should be assured and wastages checked. Land reforms need to be carried out expeditiously.

The Soviet Union, after becoming an atomic power, became a superpower like the USA in the field of defence. In space the Soviet Union was the first to send its sputnik. However, in other technological areas it lagged behind. In R & D and technological revolution the US or the West became far more developed. As the Union Agriculture Minister I have first-hand experience that though the ICAR has over six thousand scientists we were lagging far behind in R&D in agriculture. Scientists need some incentive for working hard and seriously. In fact when they produced new wheat seeds and new fish I rewarded them with cash though it was a small amount. Incentive for all is a must in socialism.

Secondly, R&D and technological improvement cannot be the monopoly of any country whether socialist or capitalist. India did well in software and information technology. In history it was Aryabhat who was the first to devise the decimal system and say that the earth moves round the sun and that causes eclipse; Brahm Gupta explained that a number multiplied by zero is zero. So many things were likewise done by the Chinese but the situation totally changed after the Industrial Revolution. Despite everything a socialist country must try to be the best in R&D and technological revolution but globally technological cooperation with all is needed. One basic cause for the fall of the Soviet Union was that the leadership did not know what to do about inventions and did not use them for the civilian economy as distinct from the military complex. Nor was the Market allowed. In 1986 they used only one-third of their inventions. The opposite has been done in China which has thus vastly grown.

The foreign policy of the Soviet Union was very helpful for the non-aligned countries and in the fight against imperialism. That should be the line of socialism. The Chinese line is different. It has all along tilted towards Pakistan than non-aligned India. Without any military intervention socialism should help democratic movements in the countries where dictatorships reign.

In the Soviet Union the judiciary was such that cases were disposed of in a very short time. In socialism under free judiciary the same practice needs to be maintained.

To abolish caste atrocities and unchouchability a nationwide campaign should be launched and there should be an authority at the State level to check it. The authority should also check if reservation in services given to them is implemen-ted properly and annual reports of this should be sent to the governments to be placed in the Assemblies.

Similarly to guarantee that such developments are taking place countrywide an independent authority should be there to make annual reports to be sent to the Central Government to be placed in Parliament.

There should be no restriction in practising any religion but there should be strict people’s vigilance against communal propaganda and people in general should be alert against terrorism. In the beginning for every two years property census must be carried out to find out hidden wealth and thereafter it must be conducted once in every ten years.

There are many other issues regarding socialism that can and must be discussed. My main object of writing this article is to invite people wiser than me to discuss this important issue.

The author, a veteran CPI leader, was the Union Agriculture Minister in the United Front Government at the Centre (1996-98).

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