By the time of the death of Stalin in 1953, the Cold War was in full force. NATO and the CIA had been formed with the purpose of countering Russia, and Washington was intent on overthrowing the government of the USSR as part of the campaign to defeat communism. An era of proxy warfare had begun against the Soviet Union, complete with spying, propaganda, military buildup, and economic sanctions.
The response from Nikita Khrushchev, the new first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was unsurprisingly to make concessions to Washington to help ensure peace. Under this rationale, Khrushchev and his clique abolished the dictatorship of the proletariat-which is to say the model of democracy that exclusively put power into the hands of the workers-and largely restored capitalism within the country. As a result, by the mid-1960s unemployment had reappeared in the USSR, and by the 70s, deals had been made with capitalists in multiple countries to exploit Soviet labor and resources.
It was a different paradigm from the Stalin era, one that didn’t work ideally for the people who were experiencing poverty from the effects of these reforms. So the U.S. took advantage by trying to sow anti-government sentiment among potentially disaffected Russians. A 1969 U.S. memorandum mentioned that “desire for improvement in the quality of life” among Soviet citizens was one of the social factors that Washington saboteurs could use to create support for regime change in Russia.
Ultimately, the USSR’s political and economic systems couldn’t handle the cost of arms buildup and Western proxy warfare, and Gorbachev facilitated the transition into an officially capitalist new federation. Why was the country unable to handle these challenges? Socialism collapsed in Russia and other countries throughout the late 80s because as the Korean communist leader Kim Jong Il wrote: “they neglected class education and abandoned the class struggle. After assuming state power, Khrushchev weakened the function of the dictatorship of the state as a weapon of the class struggle. As a result, socialism could not be defended in the Soviet Union.”
I believe Kim Jong Il was right about this because when you compare the political developments of the USSR and the GDR to those of the socialist states that still exist, there’s indeed a clearly consequential contrast between how they’ve navigated geopolitical and economic obstacles.
The USSR’s partial adoption of private business hasn’t been unique to socialist countries. China has enacted similar economic reforms, and the DPRK has also worked to incorporate private markets. But unlike was the case for Khrushchev’s policies, the market reforms of these countries have been done out of objective economic necessity. China was a poor country during the post-Mao era when its pro-capitalist reforms began. And the DPRK has needed to open up to foreign capitalist markets since the USSR collapsed, and since the DPRK subsequently needed to seek new outside sources for supporting its economy.
The USSR, though, had already become newly industrialized and fairly prosperous by the end of Stalin’s time in office. The pro-capitalist reforms weren’t necessary for keeping the country in a stable economic state, and unlike has been the case for the PRC and the DPRK, the USSR’s fundamental structure of government was changed along with its economy. The USSR was set on the road towards becoming a country whose leadership Washington could easily sway towards abandoning the cause of socialism. This pitfall has been avoided not just by China and the DPRK, but by the other currently existing socialist states Cuba, Vietnam, and Laos.
These distinctions between the nature of the concessions that Khrushchev’s camp made vs the concessions that Chinese and Korean communists made became so consequential because of the differing conditions that befell the USSR/GDR alliance and the China/DPRK alliance. The U.S. didn’t launch a nuclear arms race against China during the first several decades when its socialist development was being built up. China has been able to become steadily more rich, prosperous, and powerful since the end of the Mao era, and this has allowed it to maintain its socialist system while continuing to provide support for the smaller surviving socialist countries.
The resulting situation for 2020 is one where the Communist Party of China is not just mostly supported by an increasingly prosperous population, but is on its way towards surpassing both the economic and military power of Washington. The PRC and its socialist allies have avoided the fatal error of Khrushchev, and they’ve come into an increasingly advantageous position because of this.
Abandon the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the capitalists and imperialists gain the upper hand.
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