A reading in: “Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union 1917-1991”, by Adel Samara

Book Review

A reading in: “Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union 1917-1991”

Adel Samara

Occupied Palestine


This work might be considered relatively complete research on the disintegration of USSR as a pioneer socialist revolution and project in modern history of mankind. The value of this book does not stem only from the importance of the Soviet socialist experience, but from the fact that socialism became more necessary for saving humanity as well, taking into consideration that capitalism became increasingly savage on world scale, the fast depreciation of globalist era, the deepening crisis in world capitalist order, and on the other side the steadfastness of some socialist countries such as Cuba and North Korea despite the collapse of other socialist countries.

It is important to refer to the insistence of communist parties and thinkers on fighting for communism despite the renegade of many regimes, parties and intellectuals their departure from communism to capitalism especially in the stage of globalism and its brutal policy of neo-liberalism.

In this review does not intend to discuss the entire book, but I will mention a few important points and critique of some points which the writers did not deal with properly.

In several places, the book contains some comparisons with other socialist experiences, but in a limited manner, while it would have been very important to enrich the book and the knowledge of the readers, either for the sake of support or criticize those experiences which will contribute to the evaluation of socialist experiences.

If it is right to attribute the failure of USSR great experience to individuals, i.e. Bukharin, Khrushchev and Gorbachev, each one of them at a certain stage of Soviet struggle, it is also right that the role of Gorbachev is the most dangerous, and if we follow the argument of the book “Socialism Betrayed”, Gorbachev is the most and first to be called a betrayer. But the authors continuously hesitate to state directly that Gorbachev was a traitor or at least he changed through his collusion to become a traitor and continued to the end.

There is no need to mention that the authors support communism, especially the Soviet experience. However, it is confusing to the reader since they did not decide against Gorbachev or against him despite of the fact that his betrayal is present between the lines in the entire book.

It is right that accusation of betrayal is not scientific or academic, but it is acceptable for revolutionary work especially when it is in defense of history.

One might expect that the authors did not declare that Gorbachev is a traitor because it is a bad reputation for the great Soviet socialism that it was intruded by a traitor from inside its highest ranks, the president. If this interpretation is right, then the position of the authors is more emotional than revolutionary.

There is estimation that the authors might be loyal to the Soviet Communists who opposed Gorbachev but they, the Communists, never expected either in advance or during the deterioration of the USSR that the president will betray. If this is right, it means that that communist opposition slackens despite of the fact that USSR was during its seventy years under imperialist several forms of wars on the one hand, and that the authors did not try to benefit from Mao’s contribution that capitalist roaders are never terminated under socialist regime.

Another estimation is that the authors did not consider Gorbachev as a traitor because they themselves and the opposition leaders whom they interviewed decided to hide the fact that bureaucracy had penetrated the Soviet Regime to the extent that the president was never questioned, criticized, or challenged and that his bureaucratic power pushed opposition to despair and led each to start looking for his own interest and safety.

The USSR easy collapse made us inclined to believe that the internalization of defeat did intrude most of the party rank and file.

From an opposite way of analysis, as long as the USSR was continuously accused of being anti-democratic, many Soviet Communists tried to tolerate the real and obvious betrayal of Gorbachev who cheated by showing the West an image that the regime is democratic and people feel free to adopt any ideas. In their defense of Soviet democracy, the author emphasize, that the USSR was transcending capitalist West in economic democracy. They are really right in this point, but to let Gorbachev destroy the country just to make the regime looks like democratic is unacceptable.

Based on the above mentioned, it is time to ask whether Gorbachev was clever and sneaky or that the problem is the weakness of the leaders of USSR Communist party.

In mentioning reasons for the failure of socialist USSR, the authors attribute part of it to the peasantry background of Russia, a justification that means that peasants are against socialism and revolution or at least not proper for socialism. If my interpretation is correct, it means:

  • The authors insist on Marx’s writings on peasantry class against socialist revolution, if he considered them a real class, while historical developments after Marx, show that he wasn’t correct, but we must remember that Marx never taught us not to put his analysis in its’ historical context.
  • The authors were influenced, even if indirectly, by Trotsky’s argument against peasants.

The authors’ interpretation regarding peasants shows that there was a defect in the USSR socialist experience that it is failed to transcend peasantry traditions through 70 years, or even the failure to bridge the gap between urban and rural areas.

Despite my objection to the authors’ description that current China is socialist, China was, in fact, more peasantry than Russia at the time of revolution of each one of them, but its’ backward did not block its transformation to socialism.

This without noting that Cuba was never an industrial country before revolution and may not even now, the same goes for North Korea.

The authors did not deal properly, or even they did not at all, raise the theoretical issue in the society and party taking into consideration the fact that theoretical education is an important pillar in building socialism and to challenge western cultural invasion.

I think that this shortcoming was one of the main reasons behind the failure of the Communist party commitment which laid the base for a weak resistance against revisionism and disintegration of USSR. The lesson of Cuba tells us that socialist education is one of the main reasons in Cuba’s socialist and steadfastness of the regime.

This leads us to discuss the issue of intellectuals since the authors pretend that intellectuals were anti-socialist or against the Soviet state according to their belief in social democracy and market economy.

This is a big problem as it means that all intellectuals are against socialism! For instance, I did not find notes that mention that a sector of intellectuals are socialists, communists …etc and that they tried to challenge revisionism, but unfortunately they failed to succeed or were unprepared or unable to carry the mission.

In fact Yegor Ligachev was mentioned several times as a leader of the opposition, but not as an intellectual or leader of intellectuals.

It is right that intellectuals are ready more than other social segments for compromise, betrayal, bribe, intellectualism…etc, but this shouldn’t be generalized. Generalization wipes the heritage of revolutionary, critical, organic and engaged intellectuals.

There is no pretense from counter-revolution (CR) that it monopolizes intellectual faction in any country, or that this faction is only proper for CR or that socialism is not attractive to intellectuals but for simple people, workers, peasants and illiterates, while in fact Marxism-Leninism concentrates on intellectualism, culture and cultural revolution from Marx to Lenin and Mao. This defect in the book argues that Communists in general have no or lack intellectual depth. In fact, this is dangerous for the future of socialism and its theoretical contrive.

The best contribution in the book is the detailed analysis of USSR internal situation. But the authors touch slightly upon the external role against the country, i.e. the CR which never stopped its direct and indirect aggression against socialism. This brief dealing with the external role against socialism minimizing its role in the termination of the regime, despite little notes on US imperialism’s aggressions for instance, in the war in Afghanistan.

The same is true for the aggressive role of Arab renter, clientele and comprador regimes as part and even tool for CR, especially Saudi Arabia’s policy which plays a deliberate role in the collapse of oil prices which led the USSR to loose a lot of money. The same regimes are repeating the same aggressive policy against Russian Federation, Iran and Venezuela.

The book tackles properly imperialist media campaign against comrade Stalin, using the term Stalinism, which was also used by Khrushchev as well. This point might need more focus especially because it is still used by CR against Stalin and also because of the same campaign that was launched against Mao and the Chinese Cultural Revolution on the one hand, and against Arab republics leaders for the benefit of Arab rulers who are mere imperialist agents as well.

The issue of Stalin issue is very important because it is related directly to imperialist aggression against USSR that started from the rise of revolution until the fall of USSR fall and even continues till today pretending that Putin is to a certain extent a continuity of Stalin.

While the book refers to the close periphery of USSR, Eastern Europe, and the passive effects of its’ collapse on USSR, there is no mentioning of the re-integration of the USSR far periphery into world market and the effect of that development on the USSR itself, i.e. Egypt’s “Open Door Policy” following 1970s and the same for Syria and Iraq whose trade with Europe was greater than their trade with USSR.

(See Adel Samara: Peristroika, Gulf War and Arab-Soviet Relations, 1991 p.p. 101-108, and , Adel Samara: The USSR From Revolution to Collapse, in The Collapse of the Soviet Union, Causes and Lessons, International Communist Seminar Brussels – Belgium, 1998 p.p. 223-236).

In fact, the re-integration of USSR far periphery into world market weakened USSR and was an introduction to the collapse of the closed periphery and the center itself considering that the USSR was competing with imperialism mainly by its’ own sources while imperialism was and still is plundering the wealth of the most of world wealth which gave it an upper hand in spending on wars and arms race.

There is no doubt that the reader expected to find in the book some pages on the Chinese transformation to the market and the merging of market and plan  just for comparison as a critique to Chinese revisionism taking into consideration that the book has been published after long years of Chinese’s leadership went that road.

In addition to the passive effects of the collapse of both USSR peripheries, it is good to find some other pages on the dependency of most of the Communist parties all over the world on the Soviet international politics, analysis and even understanding of Marxism. A dependency that blocks their urgent critique of mistakes done by Soviet leadership in several occasions. If those parties practice revolutionary theoretical critique, they might support the real Communists in the USSR. The authors refer only to the revisionism of Euro-Communism alone which came too late after the long and gradual deterioration of the USSR.

The communist parties which decided to dissolve itself or to support bourgeois regime’s programs following Khrushchev’s anti-revolution theory of non-capitalist road to socialism, contribute as well to weakening socialism in USSR. The reputation of those parties still suffers from that compromise.

This takes us to the radical critique of Che Guevara to the Soviet Union in 1965: “… It is impossible for socialism to stay without conscious being changed to develop new fraternal attitude for humanism… we believe that to help developing countries must be applied by this spirit without a marginal speech about developing trade for the sake of mutual benefits which is based on fixed prices at the cost of backward countries based on law of value and international relationships of unequal exchange which breed from law of value” .

“( Guevara, C 1965, A Common Aspiration: The Overthrough of Imperialism Unites Cuba with Africa and Asia, Bertrand Russel Peace  Foundation, Notingham.

This opened the way to another important issue in reading the Soviet experience which is the law of value and to what extent there were relative success to transcend it taking into consideration that after Stalin the role of that law strengthened through adoption of material incentives and the strengthening of manager’s role at the cost of plan.

The concentration of the authors on the role of both Khrushchev and Gorbachev and in revisionism and collapse of USSR is a good reading, but it lacks concentration on other pillars for revisionism, for instance:

  • Khrushchev’s concentration on managers’ role
  • The adoption of Efzy Liberman theory of material incentives in economy and benefiting from profit system and interest rate (Samara 1991).
  • In regard to the High Damn in Egypt, Khrushchev said in Egypt: “… We must be sure if financing the High Damn is profitable or not”
  • (Kidron Michael, 1972, In Documents submitted to UNCTAD Pakistan’s Trade with Eastern Block Countries, New York: Prager.)

Despite the fact that the early revisinism in Poland either by the intrusion of the working class through the organization “Solidarity” from inside the working class,  the role of Vatican and the aggressive western media, but there wasn’t concentration on the aggressive role of Troteskyite currents either through the decision of a lot of their leaders who integrated themselves into the US neo-conservatives and their campaign against USSR because of its’ support to the Afghani socialist, their support to polish Solidarity reactionary trade union, and even the role of the prominent economist Ernest Mandel against USSR”.

What remains is to confirm that the reader of this book did not understand concretely who is and who are the betrayers? Is it individual, party, group, class, local or foreign enemies or if it is all or a lot of them?

Note: for the sake of comparison a group of Communists participate in a book on the same subject, The Collapse of the USSR:

The Collapse of the Soviet Union, Causes and Lessons, International Communist Seminar Brussels – Belgium, 1998. To mention some names: Ludo Martene, Nina Andreyeva, James Klugmann, Armando Lowanag, Adel Samara, Ismael Rinashe, Vijay Sibgh and others.


* Socialism Betrayed Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union 1917-1991, by Roger Keeran & Thomas Kenny, iUniverse USA 2004 and 2010, 580 pages.

  • The opinions and views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Kana’an’s Editorial Board.