Communist Counterfactuals: A Sincere Question

This morning on Twitter, I randomly went on a pro-Soviet Union tear. My goal in doing so wasn’t to indicate my deep-seated wish that I had been born under Stalin or my belief that the Soviet system was an unmitigated triumph — mostly just to push back on the moralizing and frankly boring ways that the Soviet Union is depicted in mainstream discourse.

Naturally, I’ve gotten some push-back. What this has all led me to wonder is not how the Soviet Union performed compared to some ideal, but compared to the available alternatives.

Obviously it was never going to be much like the United States, with its long history of capitalist development and its durable political institutions. One might think whistfully on the possibilities that were cut short by the Bolshevik take-over that followed on the establishment of liberal democracy — but was a “normal” liberal-democratic Russia really ever in the cards, in the wake of World War I? Had the Bolsheviks not managed to seize power, would it not be more reasonable to believe that Russia, on the model of Weimar Germany, would’ve stumbled along with its unaccustomed liberal-democratic institutions until some right-wing nationalist demagogue managed to overthrow the whole thing? (I know, I know: as opposed to the left-wing nationalist demagogue they actually wound up with…)

Surely there are many readers better-informed about such issues than I am.

7 thoughts on “Communist Counterfactuals: A Sincere Question

  1. It’s also worth noting that the Soviet Union really couldn’t just do its own thing. It was forced to “compete” or else be swallowed/destroyed by the surrounding capitalist world.

  2. You may want to read this book. More generally, practically anything by Moshe Lewin is excellent for non-moralising analysis on the USSR, should you want to shove your hand deeper into this enormous can of worms.

  3. I think this is a great, honest historical question (when Zizek poses similar questions I think he is at his best). I have been reading mid 1950s-1960s literature on Barth’s political posture after WWII. It is usually described as “naive” or “neutral” because he did not openly attack communism and the Soviets like he did with the Nazis. I wonder in retrospect that what was perceived as “neutral” was his openness to ask “what if” about the radical Left and not just assume like many of his contemporaries that the West was the moral (democratic) leader in the Cold War…then again, he also did say he was glad he didn’t live under communism…

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