When Karl Marx wrote his seminal work, das capital, he never thought that his work would be as influential as events in the 20th century testifies. Karl Marx is thought to be one of the most influential economists of all time (Barnett 46). His ideas were first put in practice by Lenin in Russia. Marx had predicted the revolution of the proletariat to depose the owners of capital in the industrial societies. But this revolution happened in one of the most backward societies in Europe at the time. Together with Leon Trotsky, Lenin established communism in Russia. Lenin came up with the idea of a party or a group of disciplined men to guide the masses to revolution and subsequently guide them towards communism. This thinking led to development of communist party. The communist party of Russia permeated every aspect society and guided Marxist ideology; it effectively controlled politics and economics in Russia for almost a century.
Marxism was developed by the Germans Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The crux of Marxist thought is how to change and improve society through undertaking economic and socio-political reforms to implement socialism (Barnett 50). According to Marxism, history is one long struggle among classes in the society and social change occurs as a result of this struggle. Marxist analysis concludes that capitalist economic system is fundamentally exploitative with the working classes (proletariat) working to enrich the wealthy in the society (bourgeoisie). To correct this anomaly, Marxism prescribes proletariat revolution to control government and introduce reforms (Barnett 51). One of the reforms would be to abolish private property which would be run by the people for their benefit instead being managed for private profit.
Such a society would be socialist on its way to being purely classless, a state known as communism. Socialism therefore is an intervening state towards communism. According to Marxists, performance of more labor than what is required for production of good consumed is exploitation (Kogan and Paynter 100). The value of a commodity should be equal to the amount total labor and time required to produce it.
Amount in excess of that is the surplus value which is extracted from surplus labor of the working class (Kogan and Paynter 102). Extracting this surplus value lies at the heart of capitalism and this is the chief gripe Marxists has with capitalism as an economic system. Karl Marx believed that the inner contradictions of capitalism would lead to its demise and the eventual establishment communism.
Marxism-Leninism is a version of Marxism developed Lenin. It upholds the basic tenets of espoused by Karl Marx with additions of Vladimir Lenin. One of the core features of Marxism-Leninism is the belief that the overthrow of capitalism can only be achieved violently to install a rule by the masses (dictatorship by the proletariat) as the first step towards communism. Another important feature of Marxism-Leninism is the emphasis they have on the importance of a party to lead the masses on revolution and the march towards communism. Lenin believed that capitalism could not be reformed from within and therefore, the only recourse was its violent overthrow (Kogan and Paynter 110). One of the works of vanguard party before and after proletariat revolution is to re-educate masses to remove false class consciousness instilled on them by the capitalist class. Revolution would usher in socialism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In this state, the workers would hold absolute power in a direct democracy sort of government where workers hold political power through soviets or local councils. Karl Marx defined communism as stateless but looking at nations that have experimented with communism, it would appear that their system fell short of the ideal classless society that Marx envisaged would exist in such as communist society (Kogan and Paynter 112). This is because under communist states, a ruling class invariably emerges which is distinct and removed from the rest. Again, instead of being purely egalitarian, it leans more towards state capitalism or state socialism.
The Russian, Vladimir Lenin, was the first to attempt to put into practice the ideas of Marxism. When the Russian revolution started in 1971, Lenin was smuggled into Russia by the Germans on promise that he would try to remove Russia out of the war (Prokhorov 72). He was later joined by the Leon Trotsky who played a decisive role in making the Bolsheviks dominant and later adopt communism. Through his organizational genius and with the help of money given by his American friends, he was able to outsmart both the Mensheviks and the provisional Duma to power. In the intervening period before the rise of the reds, the first acts of socialism had already been attempted with the nationalization of important industries. Socialism accelerated with the rise of rise of the Bolsheviks and the formation of new government. This new government consisted of the congress of soviets which held supreme authority. The decisions of the congress were executed by a gathering of regional leaders or the “commissars” who themselves were answerable to the congress and its central executive committee (Prokhorov 75). Lenin was the elected head of the council of people’s commissars.
One of the first acts of the congress of soviets was to demand an end to the war and redistribution of land and wealth to the masses (Prokhorov 80). When this was done, it attracted widespread support for the Bolsheviks in all parts of the country. Banks and factories were nationalized and put under local soviets. When elections were held, Bolsheviks were beaten decisively. Trotsky rejected the outcome and ordered troops to disperse parliament. From then on, the communist party of Russia dropped any ideas of having a democratically elected government. In 1918, civil war broke out due to discontent over the Bolsheviks rejection of election results. Opponents of the communists, known as the whites were defeated by the communists in 1920. The civil war left the Russian economy in shambles with hungry and extremely dissatisfied people (Khakamada and Ostrow 67). In response to the growing crisis, Lenin announced the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921which allowed a certain degree of private enterprise.
With the death of Lenin in 1924, Josef Stalin rose to power. Throughout the 1930s, Stalin purged the Russian populace of real and imagined enemies. Leon Trotsky was forced to flee Russia and Nkolay Bukharin, a fellow leader in the communist party was executed in 1938 on trumped up charges. The general population was generally terrorized by Stalin secret police or the NKVD. In a departure from Marxism-Leninism, Stalinism had three distinguishing characteristics: reliance on dialectical materialism, cult personality and belief in strengthening socialism in Russia before it could be exported. Stalin used dialectical materialism to justify any course of action that he wanted to pursue. One of the core features of Marxism-Leninism is the importance of the vanguard party to lead the masses (Khakamada and Ostrow 70).
Stalin thought that the party itself had false consciousness and therefore needed strong central leadership of one man to guide it. This ended intra party democracy and Stalin himself become a cult figure. To make socialism strong in Russia, Stalin undertook collectivization of farms and a program of rapid and forced industrialization. Forced Collectivization of farms left many prosperous peasants landless and those who resisted were sent off to Siberia.
As result of these agricultural reforms, there were widespread food shortages that led to the death of millions due to starvation. Under Stalin, encouragement of private enterprise under New Economic Policy and replaced with Five Year Plans. Under five year plans, all sectors of the industry were given targets and the central government closely monitored performance. There was heavy investment in mining and extraction of raw materials. Collectivized farms would be consolidated into one singular holding that could be mechanized (Khakamada and Ostrow 75). All these program of swift development were aimed at making the Soviet Union a strong power to ensure its survival as Stalin often stated. In 1929, the State Planning Commission or Gosplan was set up guide the economy towards rapid industrialization. The drafts that were subsequently produced by the Gosplan served as the Five Year Plans blueprint. The focus of the first Five Year Plan was to build industrial base by mobilizing the country’s natural resources. This endeavor was largely successful and laid the basis of rapid industrial growth in the long term. Industrial output doubled or tripled in some cases. However, the workers standards of living did not rise in tandem with increasing industrialization (Khakamada and Ostrow 90). Unemployment which was a huge problem during the Tsar regime virtually disappeared. Between the years 1928 and 1940, wages dropped by about 50 % in real terms making it possible for the state to employ a lot of people. Other tangible achievements of soviet Russia under Stalin included improvement in healthcare and building of schools. But the purges of the 1930s threatened to roll back the achievements that he had to wind them down at the end of the decade. When Second World War erupted, the Soviet Union was prepared to face it and it turned its industries to manufacture military hardware to face the new emergency.
With the defeat of Germany, and soviet occupation of east and central Europe, the union became increasingly powerful. The program of industrialization together with reconstruction continued earnestly after the war.
After the death of the Josef Stalin in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev rose to power after the removal and subsequent execution of Beria (Robinson and Curtiss 152). In a secret speech to party members, Khrushchev denounced Stalin policies. One effect of the speech was to consolidate the new leader own position. He initiated several economic reforms the most notable being his emphasis on commodity goods that allowed the living standards to go up dramatically. He released political prisoners, eased censorship, and reorganized secret police putting it under it under Communist Party of Soviet Union control (Robinson and Curtiss 156). He also increased contact with outside nations. He introduced reforms in agriculture which brought more confusion than tackle the persistent problem of low agricultural productivity. His handling of domestic and international issues made him lose support and in October 1964, he was deposed. The new leadership maintained a policy of de-Stalinization but also departed in significant ways from Krushchev policies. Economy continued to grow until the 1975 stagnation that was as a result of poor crop yields. By then, Brezhnev had emerged the sole leader of the Soviet Union.
How soviet economy was managed
Soviet economy was based on state owner ship of factories and collective farms. All planning was centralized. Investment was fully under state control which also owned industrial assets such as machinery. Centralized nature of economic planning made economy to be particularly susceptible to bad governance. The stagnation of the soviet economy that eventually led to the collapse was contributed by the poor governance when leonid Brezhnev was at the helm. Also, planned economy is inefficient. Between the years 1928 to 1991, Russia evolved from agrarian to industrial thanks to Five Year Plans started by Stalin. The economy was able to produce heavy industrial products but the inability of the central planners to predict demand for light industrial goods made it lag behind in production of those commodities.
Gosplan or the state planning commission, Gosbank and the Gossnab were tasked with managing the soviet economy. During the Stalin era, capital goods received more emphasis than consumer goods. Information flowed from the top down and the central planners relied on the feedback from the bottom to make decisions. But due the general environment of intimidation, central planners never got reliable information (Khakamada and Ostrow 310). They would work with outdated information whose correctness was suspect. As a result, shortages and surpluses of some goods were common.
Another reason for shortages of goods, especially the consumer goods was due to the emphasis placed on capital goods and the expense of consumer goods. Central planners neglected to determine the household consumer demand (Walicki 56). As a result, there would be long queues to buy basic commodities and black market for commodities such as cigarettes thrived. The basic guidelines of the Five Year plans were done by the party politburo. The central committee to the congress received the guidelines for approval and then passed on to the council of ministers which would delineate priorities from the guidelines. The council of ministers would compile its report and hand it to Gosplan for action. In collaboration with other bodies such as planning ministries, the central planners had the huge task of balancing resources available with the requirement to ensure that desired output is achieved. This central planning continued to do well but as the economy become more and more sophisticated, it became increasingly clear that it was a bad tool of economic management (Baron 120).
Brezhnev introduced reforms aimed at making state enterprises run profitably. The Afghanistan war started a period on economic stagnation as the state committed a lot in building up the military at the expense of economic development. All this, combined with the intractable problems of centrally planning for such a large economy with little and unreliable information made reforms unavoidable (Walicki 79). And this is what Gorbachov did when he rose to power. However, his half hearted economic reforms together with sweeping political reforms unleashed forces that swept Soviet Union to dustbin of history.
Marxism ideology: it role in politics and economy
As already observed, Marxism is basically socio-economic world view that seeks to change and improve society through undertaking economic and socio-political reforms to implement socialism (Baron 87). Russian communism adhered to the basic tenets of Marxism but with important additions by Lenin. The role of the role vanguard party to guide the mass was one important aspect Marxism-Leninism.
Therefore, the communist party became prominent in running the affairs of the state. It was virtually impossible to get political post without being a member of communist party. The purges of the 30s and 40s were done on the pretext of removing people from the population who were opposed to the communist party ideology (Walicki 136). The Brezhnev doctrine stated that the Soviet Union reserved the right to depose a regime in the soviet bloc that deviated from the “correct” path of socialism. Stalin sought to strength the position of the Soviet Union and before exporting it to other parts of the worlds. Foreign involvement of the union can be understood in the light of this. Marxism spurned on private property and religion (Walicki 196). When the Bolsheviks rose to power in Russia, private property became a property of the state. Religion was suppressed throughout the length and breadth of soviet dominion. The communist party, as a guide to the people on their march to communism controlled everything. As explained elsewhere in this party, the guidelines for the Five Year plans originated from the party’s high command. Therefore, communists effectively controlled the direction of the economy.
Putting the ideas of Marx into practice was a bold move by Lenin but through sheer genius and indefatigable spirit of two men, communism was established in Russia (Khakamada and Ostrow 301). To its credit, communist leadership guided Russia to rapid industrialization but at a great human cost. This development made Russia ready in time to withstand and eventually play a great role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Marxism ideology informed politics and economy of the Soviet Union. The communist party was extremely powerful especially after the secret police was put under it. As events panned out as decades of communist rule in Russia rolled, it became clear that communist party held absolute power and controlled lives and destiny of men in the soviet union.
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