Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bolshevism and the West, Nearing's Address

Affirmative Presentation Address (pages 17-31), by Scott Nearing

The biographical sketch that precedes this section notes that Nearing, an economist then teaching at the Rand School of Social Science, earned his undergraduate degree in oratory: careful, Bertie, he’s a ringer!

Recall that the debate centers on whether the Soviet form of government is applicable to Western countries like Britain and the US. Nearing will discuss what “applicability” means and what really constitutes a government of the Soviet-type, before indicating why he believes that Bolshevism is indeed applicable to the West.

Nearing offers an orthodox Marxian view of social evolution, where forms of government reflect economic conditions. The growth of industry led to the replacement of feudalism with the capitalist state. Russia was behind in this development, and before World War I (at the time of the debate, still the Great War) it remained a partly feudal society with a nascent capitalist class. The war destroyed Russian feudalism and Russian capitalism. The Soviets were on hand with a replacement for the old, destroyed social order. “If the old social order had broken down first in Germany, the new social order would have come first in Germany [p. 24].” (Nearing doesn’t mention that somehow the Bolsheviks were able to skip a Marxian near-requirement by moving to the next stage before full-blown capitalism had been achieved.)

The new, Soviet social order is not communism or socialism, but a transitional stage between capitalism and socialism. It centralizes power in a dictatorship of the Communist Party, representing industrial workers and peasants. The ultimate goal is communism, which involves economic emancipation and the end of exploitation. But the current Soviet system is not yet a communist one.

The Soviet system differs from Western governments in three ways. First, the system of representation is economic, not geographical: street car workers, and teachers, as opposed to precincts, are the fundamental election units. Nearing views this arrangement as desirable, in that it better reflects the reality that people are more closely affiliated via their employment than their neighborhood. Second, the Soviet economic system is organized scientifically, and is not just the chaotic hodgepodge that emerges under capitalism. (Though it is unfair to Nearing, hindsight makes it hard not to scoff at the proclaimed scientific basis of the Soviet economy.) Third, the Soviets have adopted the notion that those who don’t work don’t eat – again as opposed to capitalism, where many of those who make no contribution to society nevertheless are rewarded handsomely thanks to income from property ownership. These three principles of Soviet rule did not arrive randomly, but were hammered out through seven years of wartime suffering. We will be ready for a similar form of government when our social order breaks down, as the Russian one did.

And our social order is poised to break down, through another international war and domestic class wars. Our current disregard of the peril is the same disregard the confident Germans felt in 1913. Ten years from now we will feel differently. When the inevitable capitalist breakdown occurs, we will see in the West a dictatorship of the proletariat organized around a tightly disciplined party, and enter our own transition to socialism.

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