Vladislav Bugera: portrait of a post-marxist thinker

1 of obsolete references to websites was replaced by the current one.

The Research and Analytical Supplement (RAS) to Johnson's Russia List is produced and edited by Stephen D. Shenfield. He is the author of all parts of the content that are not attributed to any other author.




1. Introduction

2. My interview with Bugera

3. Interview: The Rarity of Love

4. Interview: The Great Bluff


It was Mark Twain who first said: "The report of my death was an exaggeration." I have often been reminded of his sardonic remark upon hearing or reading categorical assertions that "no one in the Soviet Union (or Russia or the post-Soviet states) still really believes in communism/Marxism." Why then did I keep running into such "true believers"? There have perhaps not been very many of them, at least since Khrushchev's time, and perhaps their numbers declined over time, but they never disappeared.

I should emphasize that I am talking not about believers in the regime (truly an extremely rare phenomenon) but about believers in the ideas to which the regime formally adhered ? often bitterly hostile to the regime, but in the name of those ideas. To take a very important example, people of this kind upheld the ideal of socialist internationalism in preference to the official "Soviet patriotism," which they perceived as a form of Russian nationalism. The conditions of the 1990s led people to associate the weakening of social provision with Western influence, thereby strengthening political forces that combined socialist slogans with nationalist or even fascist appeals (the so-called "red-brown" synthesis).

And yet the socialist internationalist tendency never disappeared. Conditions may now favor its resurgence, inasmuch as recent years have seen the rise to predominance of a "traditional" right wing that combines capitalist with nationalist values. So I think it is relevant to examine the experience and ideas of a representative of this tendency.

Vladislav Bugera, Doctor of Philosophical Sciences, currently lectures at the Ufa State Oil University of Technology in Bashkortostan, although he began his intellectual and political career in Kiev during perestroika. (1) He is a prolific writer, with several books to his name (2) as well as numerous articles, reviews, interviews, etc. Hardly any of this work has been translated into other languages.

Why do I call Bugera a post-Marxist? He says that he is not a Marxist, and it is true that some aspects of his thought notably, the primary emphasis that he gives to managerial power are not recognizably Marxist. However, Marxism serves as his starting point and its influence on his work is clearly enormous. Thus "post-Marxist" seems reasonable to me.

I thought it might be most effective to introduce Bugera to the reader by presenting three of his interviews. I conducted the first one; the others appeared in Russian periodicals. All translations are mine.


(1) He is also deputy chairman of the Bashkir Division of the Academic Council of the Russian Academy of Sciences on the Methodology of Artificial Intelligence.

(2) In the Fight Against Bourgeois Nationalism (with Marlen Insarov, 2002); Theory and Practice of Collectivism (with M.I., 2002); The Ideology of Collectivism (with M.I., 2003); Ownership and Management (2003); The Essence of Man (Moscow: Nauka, 2005); The Social Essence and Role of Nietzsche's Philosophy (Moscow: KomKniga, 2005) all in Russian; where publisher not indicated, self-published].

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SS -- Vladislav, now you live and work in Ufa, but you graduated in 1993 from Kiev State University and got your doctorate in 2006 from Moscow State University. Where are yu originally from? Ufa, Kiev?

VB -- I was born in Ufa in 1971, but my father
was from Kiev. My mother was from a peasant family in Kursk Province.

My paternal grandfather worked as a baker in Kiev. He went through World War One and fought in the civil ar as a cavalryman with Petlyura [a Ukrainian nationalist leader]. The Soviet authorities forgave him for that, but he was arrested at the end of 1937. He was incautious enough to write down his thoughts about the Holodomor (man-made famine of te early 1930s) and the Stalin regime in a diary, and then to read out what he had written to his best friend. Well, the best friend informed on him. He was shot at the beginning of 1938 on the mostastonishing charge: in 1922 he had supposedly been recruited by Polish intelligence, to whom he had onveyed in 1932 information about the amount of bread produced annually at the bakery where he worked and about the moods of the workers at this bakery. As he had been a Petlyurite, he was also charged with participating in a pogrom against Jews in Berdichev.

In the 1990s my family obtained acces to certain documents from my grandfather's case. They showed that he had confessed very quickly to the main charge (under torture, evidently) but to the very end denied taking part in a pogrom. The secret police told his wife, my grandmother,that he had been sentenced to ten years without the right of correspondence ; in 1947 she receivd a notice that he had died in camp from tuberculosis. Such deceptions were common practice at the time. My grandmother actively sought grandfather's rehabilitation and succeeed toward the end of the 1950s. At the same time,by the way, her brother was serving in the secret police. I even remember meeting him, shortly before he died. I also remember his wife, Grandmother Raya.

SS -- But his superiors must have known he was related to a spy.

VB -- In Ukraine no one was surprised by such situations, for instance, that a Petlurite should be related to a Chekist, husband of a Jewess. That's the sort of political cocktail that was mixed there during the civil war.

Grandfather's arrest was one of the heaviest blows to strike my father in his life, but it was far from the last. He lived through the Nazi occupation of Kiev together with his mother, my grandmother. My mother also ived through it with her mother, my other grandmother. She remembers the Germans very well. The neighbors denounced her mother to the Germans as a communist. She was pregnant at the time.

SS -- She was shot?

VB -- No, the Germans in her village spared her. They were not SS, just Wehrmacht, ordinary soldiers, not especially cruel unless they had orders to be.

In 1943 my father managed to join the Red Army. He was severely wounded, but continued service and was not discharged until 1950. That was quite common at the beginnig of the Cold War. Then he studied in Moscow, met my mother there, and went to plow the VirginLands in northern Kazakhstan. After long wanderings my family finally settled down in Ufa. My father taught political economy in the same Oil Istitute where I work now, except now it's been upgaded to a university.

SS -- So you are Ukrainian on your father's side and Russian on your mother's.

VB - I m sure that the mixing of natons makes for less sickness in our life. In the countries of which I have experience, ALL political camps are infected by xenophobia, left as well as right. Not only in Russia and Ukraine. In 2002 I won a Soros grant and was able to spend two weeks in Budapest, attending a course at the Central European University.There was an electoral struggle between the socilists and the right-wing party of Viktor Orban (prime minister of Hungary from 1998 to 2002 [SS]). Though I didn t read Hungarian, I could see from the caricatures on placards carried by Orban's supporters that they accused the socialists of serving the world Jewish conspiracy. But I heard that the socialists were spreading rumors that Orban was placing Gypsies in power, even that he himself was a Gypsy. Both sides were exploiting ethnic hatreds.

To get back to my parents, their life experience made them into convinced internationalists. Father embarked upon a deep study not only of political economy but also of Marxist philosophy. He kept a lookout for original, freethinking philosophers and economists and bought their books, building up a rich and diverse library of scholarly and artistic literature. Without his upbringing and his library I would not have become a left-wing activist or written my books and articles.

The children in my family were brought up in a multicultural spirit. From childhood we were encouraged to take an interest in Russian, Ukrainian, and Jewish literature and music. My father loved Yiddish songs and the books of Sholom Aleichem.

SS -- He knew and taught you Yiddish?

VB -- Well no, but excellent Russian translations of Sholom Aleichem were available. I do read Ukrainian fluently and speak it tolerably well, having lived for long periods in Kiev with my father.

In general, that is how I became an internationalist. From my school years, I too was interested in materialist philosophy and political economy. I read Marx and Engels for my own pleasure, not because I was forced to. Moreover, I was taught from childhood to think independently and not dogmatically.

As a result, my basic political and theoretical views began to take shape while I was still at school. I gave them clear formulation as a student. That includes my conception of computerization as a necessary precondition for a classless society, my theory of the three types of relations of management and ownership, and also certain ideas of mine in the field of dialectics that I have not so far published but that underlie my methods of investigation.

In 1988, soon after my father died, I entered the philosophy faculty of Kiev State University. Now they call it Kiev National University. I first got involved in politics in 1989. By the way, for five years I studied in the same group as Vyacheslav Kirilenko, who is now leader of the pro-presidential fraction in the Ukrainian parliament. I was against him, of course. He and his friends in the nationalist Ukrainian Students Union spread a rumor among the students that I was a homosexual. Even then that was the sort of method the Ukrainian democrats used to fight their opponents.

SS -- Did you belong to any organization at that time?

VB -- I helped to set up the Fatherland Forum. We were against the Ukrainian nationalists and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Some of us were immature internationalists like myself; others were moderate Russian nationalists or self-styled Soviet patriots. I left at the very start of 1991, when I saw that the organization was shifting more and more toward a more extreme, right-wing variety of Russian nationalism.

In opposing the Ukrainian nationalists I was not motivated by Russian nationalism, even in the form of Soviet patriotism. My goal was for the workers to forget national divisions and fight for a society without nations, states, or state borders. I already understood very well that by drawing working people into the struggle to carve up the USSR the capitalist class was smothering their class struggle and enhancing its own power over them.

Later in 1991 I joined the Union of Working People of Ukraine for Socialist Perestroika (STU). I was on its Kiev City Committee. It had links with a faction in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine that wanted to preserve the Soviet Union.

SS - What was your reaction to the putsch attempt in August 1991?

VB - At the time I was in the process of organizing a small student group in opposition to the Ukrainian nationalists. I had already publicized it a little in the press and was hoping to register it officially as a political organization. Then suddenly I see that in Moscow a State Committee for the State of Emergency (GKChP) has seized power! I was afraid what might happen to my comrades and myself. I assumed that the putsch would succeed and expected the suppression of all informal political organizations, separatist or not. So what did I do?

In the name of my group I sent off a telegram in support of the putsch to the GKChP, with copies to the USSR and Ukrainian Supreme Soviets. Later this stupid telegram even found its way into a published collection of documents about the putsch. A couple of days later, when I saw that the putsch was failing, I sent off a second telegram condemning the coup. Well, I was young and naive. I could think up theories, but lacked the life experience to handle real situations. I still feel ashamed when I think of those stupid telegrams.

SS - Still, you were afraid. Fear is a poor counselor, as they say.

VB - It was an irrational fear. Why would the putschists have taken notice of us? They had more important things to worry about.

After the attempted putsch I realized that trying to save the Union had become a hopeless cause. I quietly dropped out of the STU. At the beginning of 1992 I joined the Marxist Workers Party, where I was to remain until 1996. In July 1992 I became a member of its Council and of the editorial board of its journal. I set up a branch of the party in Ufa. With the authorization of the Council, I established contact with a Trotskyist organization abroad

SS -- While on the subject of international contacts, perhaps you can cast some light on a rather remarkable episode. A few years ago, a group of people in Ukraine made contact with a whole series of left-wing organizations in Western countries, pretending in each case to be sympathizers of the organization concerned. They had made a careful study of the doctrine and language of each organization, so the pretence was quite effective, at least at first. After a while the Western organizations started to become suspicious. Some sent people over to investigate on the spot and the scam was exposed, but not before they had extracted a lot of financial aid from their comrades abroad.

VB - I very much regret to say that in the early 1990s I was on close terms with the person who later organized this scam: Oleg Vernik. He was a member of the student group I mentioned earlier. I even helped him establish foreign contacts. I started to suspect that something was amiss when lots of new left-wing groups suddenly sprouted up in Kiev, or so it appeared. Knowing the situation there, I found it strange. Where could all these new groups have come from? When I realized what exactly was going on, I felt very bad that unwittingly I had misled foreign comrades and helped him organize the scam. I made up for it by doing whatever I could to help expose him.

SS - What did he do when he was exposed?

VB - For a year or two he kept out of the limelight. But after the Orange Revolution he became active again with his left-wing initiatives, basically selling his political services to various clients for money.

SS - In the West, selling political services comes under the heading of Public Relations. He should set up a PR firm. But let s return to the main line of your story. You established contact with Trotskyists abroad. Does that mean you considered yourself a Trotskyist?

VB - No, not really. My contacts with Trotskyists were simply a stage in my search for comrades abroad with whom I could cooperate. For one thing, I never accepted Trotsky s theory that the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers state. That concept seemed to have nothing to do with the society in which I grew up. I always thought of the Soviet Union as a new type of exploitative class society. Over the years I broadened my contacts and found people whose thinking was closer to my own. Since 1998 I have been in touch with Italian Bordigists and other left communists. But I am still exploring.

SS - You mentioned your trip to Hungary. Have you been to any other countries outside the former Soviet Union?

VB - In 1993 I went to Sweden to attend a youth summer camp organized by Trotskyists of the Mandel tendency. Then in December 1994 and January 1995 I visited Spain on the invitation of a Spanish Trotskyist organization to speak about the war in Chechnya to audiences of workers and students. From Spain I had intended to go on to Bosnia, accompanying a convoy of humanitarian goods sent by the organization Workers Aid for Bosnia, but my friends couldn't get all the necessary visas for me.

SS - How has the post-Soviet academic milieu in Russia and Ukraine reacted to your work? Despite your extremist views, you got the Candidate of Sciences degree, and now the Doctor of Sciences degree.

VB - Not without difficulty. At Kiev University I first presented a student dissertation on ownership and management, but the entire philosophy department refused to accept it. In the past these same people would have attacked it as anti-Marxist. Now they attacked it as anti-liberal, but the atmosphere was no less totalitarian. I eventually graduated from the university, with the help of a couple of positive reviews, after writing a new dissertation on a different topic: the social essence and role of Nietzsche s philosophy.

This was also the topic of my thesis for the Candidate of Sciences degree. I was advised not even to try submitting it here in Ufa. Academics in a provincial city feel insecure and shy away from anything that looks unusual. In Moscow, by contrast, there are still well-established scholars who sometimes try to be tolerant and broad-minded. So I defended the thesis at Moscow University.

I returned to the theme of ownership and management in my doctoral thesis. And it was just as difficult to defend my theories on that topic in Moscow as it had been in Kiev. At Moscow University my thesis passed by a single vote, though no one was completely happy with it. I was greatly helped by positive reviews sent by two Western colleagues, Hillel Ticktin and Susan Weissman. Despite anti-Western rhetoric, the opinions of Western scholars still carry weight in Russia. I would like to take this opportunity of conveying my gratitude to Professors Ticktin and Weissman.

SS - What can you tell us of your future plans?

VB - I am working on a new book. In fact, it is almost complete. You will soon know what it is about.

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Introductory note

This interview serves as an introduction to some of Bugera s most important ideas: his three basic types of ownership and management and his theory of computerization as a precondition for a classless society. It was conducted in January 2008 by Yelena Morgunova and appeared in Poisk, which calls itself a magazine of the academic community (see http://dialog21.ru/biblio/Bugera_lubov_po_vertikaly.htm ).

Interviewer's preamble

A banal truth, it would seem: love is real only when it involves neither power nor trade. Everyone can understand this. And yet true love is so rare and so fragile Why?

Various explanations are possible, and today we shall acquaint our readers with one of them. Many people will find the statements of philosopher Vladislav Bugera controversial. However, he deliberately aims to provoke controversy.

In his opinion, in any civilized society too small a role is played by relations of collective management, in which people coordinate their actions as equals, without any division into bosses and subordinates. Only these relations are capable of generating real friendship and real love. Even love between parents and children is real only when the relations between them contain the necessary minimum of parental power combined with the maximum of trust. Bugera considers that relations of management and ownership underlie the development of human society, from the organization of the production, distribution, and consumption of material goods to people s psychic states, sexuality, and views on bringing up children.

YM -- Vladislav Yevgenyevich, what, in brief, is the essence of your original conception?

VB -- In the process of the production, distribution, and consumption of material goods, people enter into relations that correspond to a certain level of development of their productive forces. We have known this since Marx s time. But, in my opinion, almost all the interconnections between people are based on relations of management, which are like cells that comprise the fabric of the living organism called society. The act of management is the willed transition from creating to carrying out a plan of action. It is the basis of almost all human relations, and therefore of human life. The social possibility of management is conditioned by relations of ownership, which determine who manages what, whom, and to what degree.

There exist three basic types of relations of management: individual (when the members of a group are independent of one another), authoritarian (interaction between bosses and subordinates, vertical coordination of actions), and collective ( horizontal coordination of actions on the basis of equality). Corresponding to them are three similar types of relations of ownership. Diverse combinations of all these types generate a multiplicity of social systems, determining the social, political, and even spiritual development of mankind.

YM -- All this is very different from our customary conceptions of management and ownership.

VB -- Yes, in my works I put forward a new theory of management and ownership and criticize previous theories and their advocates, from Karl> Marx to Norbert Wiener. My views fit into the framework of dialectical and historical materialism, although they can t be called Marxist. You won't find in the works of any Marxist the conception of relations of management and ownership as the substance of society, which underlies all my views on man and society.

YM -- But let s return to the question that we posed at the beginning of our conversation. Why is love so rare and fragile in civilized society?

VB -- Civilized society that is, class society is based on the predominance of relations of individual and authoritarian management. Collective relations play a minor role in the system of social relations, and this explains the fact that we all observe every day: distrust, the war of all against all are much more characteristic of our life than trust and friendship. If there is little trust and friendship, if they are unstable, then there will also be little love, then it too will be fragile and transient. In a society of alienation, however, people are inclined to deceive themselves and equate love with feelings that have little in common with real love feelings such as the craving for possession, jealousy, the rage of the property owner whose rights have been violated, and the appeal of forbidden fruit. Again, the theory of the three types of relations of management and ownership helps us understand how this happens.

In class society, with its predominance of relations of individual and authoritarian management, people grow accustomed from childhood onward to see others as alien to themselves, as potential competitors, as potential overlords, and at the same time as potential playthings. In the process of acculturation to such relationships, five conflicting but coexisting drives become embedded in the psyche of every civilized child. The drive to communicate with others, which is intrinsic to all people in all ages, is overlain by a striving to keep one's distance, even from the people to whom one is closest, and also by a will to power, a will to submit, and a will to rebel.

Different combinations of these five drives, different degrees of their strength and of the tension between them determine the diversity of human characters and psychic pathologies of people in class society. Even the most balanced person in a civilized society is to some extent at odds with himself, albeit not to the same extent as a mentally sick person: in an alienated society, people are alienated not only from one another but also from themselves.

YM -- Does this alienation not also explain why we civilized people so often violate the very moral norms that we regard as sacred?

VB -- You are quite right. We violate our own moral norms not only when it is advantageous to us but often merely in order to taste the sweetness of forbidden fruit either to quench our excessive desire to distance ourselves from others, or to take pleasure in power over them (or, conversely, to find pleasure in slavish submission), or, finally, to transfer our feeling of protest from really dangerous oppressors to less dangerous imaginary enemies (as, for instance, do people who hate their parents). The war of all against all that reigns in civilized society and the five drives that cleave our souls are constantly playing practical jokes on us and we constantly overstep our moral bounds, in large matters and in small, and torment both one another and ourselves.

YM -- All world religions have tried to save people, to pull them out of this vicious circle.

VB -- Religions try to make people less aggressive to one another by introducing the concepts of good and evil. People push their natural aggression into their subconscious. This is not a solution to the problem. It is necessary to start changing people by changing social relations. Only transition to a system in which relations of collective management and collective ownership predominate will save mankind.

YM -- But, after all, this too has not yet been achieved either by revolutionaries or by peaceful socialist reformers.

VB -- There was a weighty reason for their failure. At the levels of development of the productive forces characteristic of class society from ancient times up to recently, the predominance of collective relations on the scale of mankind as a whole was unthinkable. Tasks were too complex, human activities and abilities too diverse to imagine even a group of 1,000 people collectively managing a small factory, not to mention larger collectivities. However, with the appearance of computer systems and technologies the situation has begun to change. In my books Ownership and Management (www.ogbus.ru/authors/Bugera/Bugera_1.pdf) and The Essence of Man (www.dialog21.ru/biblio/essence1.htm) and in my doctoral thesis, I show that it is already technologically possible today for millions of PC users, with the aid of certain types of computer systems, to organize gigantic electronic popular assemblies, like the old Russian veche. Such assemblies would be
quite capable of taking strategic managerial decisions, competently appraising the actions of leaders, and replacing them at any time. Consequently, it is just now that the stateless communist society described by Lenin in The State and Revolution is becoming possible. It is not just premature to bury the communist idea: only now is the time for it at hand.

YM -- Are there civilized, smooth paths for the transition to a classless society?

VB -- I do not believe that mankind will develop smoothly and peacefully in the 21st century. Numerous wars await us local but very large wars, so large and frequent that over a certain period they will be equivalent in scope to a Third World War. These wars will undoubtedly lead to big social upheavals. The war in Iraq, the class struggle in France these are merely very weak portents of the great storms ahead. This prospect does not depend on whether we like it or not. It flows from the developmental tendencies of the contemporary world capitalist economy and is as inevitable as the sun setting in the west and rising in the east.

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SOURCE. First published in the weekly Istoki (August 9, 2006) under the title Velikii blef XX veka? Online at http://www.dialog21.ru/biblio/Bugera_veliky_blef_XX_veka.htm . Reproduced in translation with permission.

Introductory note

In this interview, conducted by E. Baikov, Bugera presents his views on the nature of the Soviet system and other socioeconomic formations. RAS 45 will contain a broader survey of neo-Marxist debate in post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine concerning these questions.

Interviewer's preamble

On February 27, 2006, Vladislav Bugera defended his doctoral thesis at the Philosophy Faculty of Moscow State University. It is entitled: Relations of Ownership and Management as Necessary Forms of Human Activity. The meeting was a stormy one: the thesis provoked passionate disputes among a number of leading Moscow philosophers who were present. The questions that I put to Bugera are those that produced the strongest and most mixed reactions within the Moscow philosophy community.

EB - Vladislav Yevgenyevich, in your fundamental study The Essence of Man, which Nauka published a year ago, you assert no more, no less that socialism as a real phenomenon never existed in any of the countries of the so-called socialist camp, nor does it exist today in what remains of this camp.

VB - Yes, that is really so. The lie of socialism in the USSR was the great bluff of the 20th century.

EB - How do you work that out?

VB -- First of all, we have to deal with definitions. How do various types of society differ from one another? Some types can exist at various levels of development of the productive forces, others can exist at only one level but intrinsic to each type is its own combination of relations of management and ownership.

There are three basic types of relations of management: relations of individual management, when the individual manages his own activity independently of other individuals (members of a group); relations of collective management, when members of a collective take joint decisions on the basis of equal rights, cooperation, and mutual aid; and relations of authoritarian management, when the members of a group are divided into bosses and subordinates, with the former manipulating the latter.

It s the same with relations of ownership. There is individual ownership (the individual as owner of himself and of certain objects that he uses), collective ownership (the collective as single owner of all members of the group and of the objects belonging to it), and authoritarian ownership (where subordinates, their labor, and all the objects used in their labor are owned by a leader or by a group of leaders in various shares).

EB -- And how does this classification relate to the definitions of ownership generally accepted in Marxist-Leninist political economy?

VB -- It doesn t. To be more precise, some of the terms used in Marxist-Leninist political economy are synonyms for types of ownership identified by me. Others are simply superfluous and in some cases unscientific, that is, they have no heuristic or cognitive value.

Take such concepts as private, group, and social ownership. According to my classification and terminology, private (or personal) ownership is none other than individual ownership by individual citizens. Group ownership is too diffuse a concept: it is not clear whether it refers to authoritarian ownership by a group or to collective ownership by the entire collective, by all its members on the basis of equal rights.

As for social ownership, here matters are a little more complicated. There is no connection between how Marx and Lenin define this term and how it has been used by the majority of social scientists in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods.

If we consider what revolutionary socialists originally meant by the expression social ownership and translate it into the terms of my classification, then it turns out that the expression means relations of collective ownership that are predominant within society taken as a whole. That is, all productive forces, all means of production belong to, are used by, and are therefore managed by all members of society on an equal basis. The necessary minimum of leaders, without whom it is simply not possible to get by, are strictly and intensively controlled by their subordinates and, what is more, these leaders can be replaced at any time by decision of the collective.

From this we may conclude that real socialism, as a socioeconomic system based on the social-collective mode of management and the social type of ownership, existed, alas, neither in the USSR nor in other countries of the socialist camp.

EB And what about the arguments of your opponents? They are, I suppose, false by definition?

VB -- These arguments, hackneyed and banal as they are, turned long ago into received truths or dogmas that it is not customary to expose to critical reflection. What do the apologists of Soviet socialism usually say? They simply lay down, first, that in the Soviet Union there was social, all-people s, or socialist ownership in the form of state and kolkhoz-cooperative ownership (plus citizens personal property), and second, that the state was managed by the entire working people through their elected leaders.

But in fact the type of ownership that existed in the USSR and other countries is none other than authoritarian relations of ownership, with numerous groups of working people managed not by themselves but by their no less numerous little and big bosses. The chief owner in this system was the state in the person of the highest state (party and government) officials. This was the authoritarian type of management and ownership, as in any other exploitative class society.

EB -- That is, you consider that power in our former socialist state really belonged not to the working people but to authoritarian leaders who were in fact counterparts to the capitalists, and that most property belonged to them. That is, it was they who disposed of and managed property, and not the working people, the ordinary citizens of the USSR.

VB -- And that is not just my own opinion. It is simply a fact. There is really no fundamental difference between a state official, a capitalist owner, and a top manager. Each of them holds in his hands all the real levers of management, and therefore of ownership. The difference between them lies only in the share of this ownership that they possess.

EB -- And what about primitive society? What type of relations, in your view, predominated at this stage of development?

VB -- Here everything is clear. At the stage of the primitive-communal system relations of collective ownership and management predominated, because all means of production (hunting, gathering, the upbringing of children) were in the ownership of the collective, that is, of the primitive commune. Each of these communes was in itself a little society, whose members related to one another only as people. There was one small exception: the making of tools was governed by relations of individual ownership. But such relations did not predominate in the primitive collective, and so the term primitive communism is correct.

Later, primitive communism is replaced by primitive (military) democracy, in which the tribe undergoes continuous numerical growth and its management acquires increasingly authoritarian features. There arises the phenomenon of power concentrated in the hands of a collective of strong, armed adult men. These warriors put forward their own leaders or chiefs, so that management becomes even more authoritarian. Together with primitive society, the institution of collective ownership also decays. This gradually generates all the delights of class society, with its individual and authoritarian types of relations of ownership and with its authoritarian type of management of people s joint actions the state.

EB -- All the same, what type of socioeconomic formation predominated in the former USSR? Obviously, it could not have been either a slaveholding or a feudal or a capitalist system.

VB -- Regarding the term slaveholding, let me say right away that it has no scientific basis. The point is that slave labor as such did not predominate in any of the societies of the past either in the ancient societies of the Mediterranean basin or in the ancient oriental states. Marx himself used more correct terms the ancient and Asiatic modes of production and the socioeconomic formations corresponding to them.

Both these formations and feudalism are by definition pre-industrial societies, so the industrial society of the USSR cannot be assigned to any of them. What about capitalism? Given that the Soviet Union did not have capitalist firms or individual capitalists not fully and continuously subordinated to the state as the chief owner and manager, it is incorrect to call the socioeconomic system in the former USSR capitalism or state capitalism although capitalism certainly did exist in certain countries of the socialist camp like Yugoslavia and Poland.

Probably, we must speak of some sort of new socioeconomic system and of the mode of production corresponding to it. And in fact I have identified this new type as the neo-Asiatic mode of production.

EB -- What is the essence and what are the characteristic features of this type of socioeconomic formation?

VB -- In the neo-Asiatic mode of production, the place of capitalist monopolies and other firms is taken by a single exploiter, a single countrywide monopoly that owns the entire labor power of the country s inhabitants that is, the state. There exist two main classes, which are the chief actors in the neo-Asiatic economy: the class of state bureaucrats (party, government, and economic officials of various ranks, but all of them managers) and the class of state workers (rank-and-file workers, collective farmers, certain categories of employees). Between the top bureaucrats and the state workers there are a number of intermediate strata, some of which may be demarcated as a separate class middle and petty officialdom (neo-Asiatic administrators).

EB -- What attitude do you take to the idea, so popular nowadays, of post-industrial society?

VB - A sharply negative one.

First, even in the world s most advanced countries the new information technologies have yet to raise the productive forces to a new level of development qualitatively different from the industrial level. Just because the computer has replaced the typewriter and the internet has supplemented the library and the postal service, that does not mean that society is no longer industrial.

Second, society today in all countries is quite recognizable: it is the same monopoly capitalism that arose just over 100 years ago, later gave way in some countries to the neo-Asiatic socioeconomic formation, and now again encompasses the whole world. All its features have been known to mankind for a century, even where these old phenomena have been given new names. Globalization, for example. This is basically still the same imperialist division and re-division of the world that Lenin described, changed only in certain minor particulars.

So why delude people by using the term post-industrial to refer to a mature industrial society more developed than the industrial society of a century ago but sharing the same foundations?

EB - My last question. How likely is the transition of mankind to socialism, with its intrinsic predominance of collective ownership and management?

VB - It is not simply that such a likelihood exists. In my view, this transition is a matter of historical law and inner necessity, as the alternative to it can only be a global ecological catastrophe that destroys mankind. If production is carried out above all for the sake of businessmen's profits and bureaucrats careers, then the rising level of development of productive forces will inevitably and increasingly turn the earth into a waste tip. And no ecological laws or green movements will help. Expenditures on the environment always reduce the capitalist s profit and threaten the bureaucrat with failure to fulfill his plan. So the owners of the productive forces will always find ways of evading even the strictest laws adopted by the least corrupt states, even if every citizen of these states actively supports the greens.

It s the same as with the physical development of the individual. The transformation of the adolescent into the adult is a matter of law and inner necessity; the only alternative is for the adolescent to perish. Here lies the fundamental significance of the latest computer systems and information technologies, which are capable of helping large communities of people to manage production, intersupply, distribution, and consumption collectively would working people only desire this and be determined to achieve it.

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  1. Недавно оригинал заметки стал доступен по новому адресу Johnson's Russia List: http://russialist.com/2008-204.php