The 1961 programme of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was very optimistic because it proclaimed the prospect of the realisation of communism by 1980. This programme indicated that the role of ideology was very important to the CPSU in order to proclaim how socialism was superior to capitalism. Consequently, it was argued the USSR would overtake the USA in levels of industrial production by the 1970’s, and it was suggested that the historical future belonged to a dynamic social system which was expanding in global terms. The programme also defended traditional Marxist perspectives like the class struggle, but this was related to the contemporary situation of the cold war between the USA and the USSR and the threat of nuclear war. Therefore the revolutionary goal of socialism would be achieved by the strategy of peaceful co-existence and the promotion of the role of an anti-monopoly alliance in the West, and the formation of national democratic states in the former colonial countries. In relation to the Marxist goal of communism, the creation of a society without a state and money would be modified if not entirely rejected, and the continued leading role of the party would dilute the aim of a society based on self-administration.
In other words the programme was an expression of self-confident Stalinism. What was being suggested was that the social development of the USSR, and the realisation of the global overthrow of capitalism, could not be achieved without the leading role of the CPSU and the world communist movement. Only the Communist parties could provide a programme and perspective that ensures the workers and peasants would be able to overthrow capitalism and carry out the task of communist construction in a successful manner. The significance of the party was vital in relation to the development of the ability of subordinated classes to achieve world-historical tasks. Specifically, this meant the promise of world communism and the building of socialism was based on the acceptance of the leading role of the CPSU, and the unity of the world socialist camp. The central task of the 1961 programme of the CPSU was to provide the theoretical basis of this unity and an understanding of how socialism could be successful in the struggle with capitalism. Any criticism of the leading role of the USSR could only undermine the attempt to end the domination of world capitalism.
The programme is also a result of the criticism of Stalin that began at the 1956 20th party congress of the CPSU. This means the defence of personal dictatorship is replaced by an emphasis on the democratic relationship between the party and Soviet people. The building of socialism, and the aim of communism, is conceived as a process of democratic consultation but this does not mean the hegemonic role of the CPSU should be questioned. Furthermore, the very conception of democracy is based on the monolithic regime of the single party, and the alternative of multi-party democracy is implicitly rejected. Hence the system has been reformed since the period of Stalin, and the regime of terror has been ended, but the fundamentals of socialist construction under the auspices of the leading role of the Communist party is being continued. The limitations represented by the era of Stalinism does not mean that the tasks of developing socialism and communism should be rejected, and instead the party should correct its mistakes and become an improved instrument for the realisation of the historic tasks of society. Thus the horrors of the Stalin period should not lead people to conclude that capitalism is superior to socialism. Instead the rejection of the legacy of the Stalin period should make the party capable of providing guidance to society in relation to the successful accomplishment of the process of the construction of communism.
What does the 1961 programme of the CPSU imply about the social character of the USSR? We can conclude that what is being suggested is that society represents a type of bureaucratic socialism. The programme argues that the system is based on the leading role of the CPSU, and that this system cannot be changed if success is to be achieved in the process of advancing towards communism. Hence the character of society as socialist implies the hegemonic role of the CPSU, and only the opponents of this system can gain by criticism of the role of the party. Consequently, it is the task of the party to reform itself if any problems arise in the process of movement towards communism. Thus the programme would be compatible with the proponents of the view that the USSR is a type of degenerated workers state, or that it is ruled by a new bureaucratic class. However the programme would not be compatible with the view that the USSR is state capitalist. It would be absurd for a programme to proclaim the importance of socialist and communist tasks and yet be a form of capitalism. The contradiction between the arguments of ideology and the actual social character of society would be untenable. Indeed, what would be occurring is an ideological conspiracy in order to disguise the significance of the capitalist character of the USSR. This would be an unprecedented situation because we can assume that in the overwhelming majority of instances the ruling ideology of a society has some form of correspondence with its character. In other words the ideology of the CPSU does not have an intention to mislead, and instead expresses in an important manner the actual character of society, albeit in a distorted manner that is favourably inclined towards the interests and aspirations of the ruling party elite.
It has also been argued that the ideology of the CPSU was worthless because very few people believed it.(1) This may be true, but this observation does not necessarily undermine the importance of the ruling ideology in terms of understanding the aims of the elite. Furthermore, this programme was written when the self-confidence of the Stalinist bureaucracy was at its peak because of the launch of Sputnik and the increasing ability of the USSR to be genuine rivals of the USA. It is this reason that led to such optimistic predictions about overtaking the supremacy of America. With hindsight we could argue that these predictions were foolish and the USSR never had the opportunity or capacity to establish dominance over the USA. However, when they were written these predictions did display some level of confidence by the CPSU in the historic role of the USSR. This confidence had evaporated by the Gorbachev period when it was merely a question of the survival of the regime. In contrast the 1961 programme argued that socialism was a genuine rival of capitalism and that it was a system of expansion. This point could be empirically verified by the revolution in Cuba. But what was not tackled was the continued problem of the lack of revolution in the Western advanced capitalist countries. The programme glossed over this point by suggesting that the state monopoly capitalist character of the West was transitional to socialism. In actual fact the dynamism of global capitalism undermined the integrity and viability of the Soviet social formation. By the mid 1980’s the USSR was effectively disintegrating and creating the conditions for the restoration of capitalism.(2) The optimism of the 1961 programme was shown to be false, and instead capitalism was obviously historically superior to bureaucratic socialism.
The demise of the USSR does not indicate that the 1961 programme of the CPSU is merely an object of ridicule. Instead it was a programme that represented the very sense of confidence of a party-state regime that had triumphed in the terrible period of the Second World War, and which had rejected the legacy of Stalin’s despotic regime. Thus, despite the setback of the Hungarian revolution, the CPSU could argue that socialism was thriving and the process of world revolution was making advances. The balance of class forces had become favourable for establishing success in the tasks of the construction of communism and the realisation of world socialism. These perspectives seemed to have been vindicated by the defeat of the USA in the Vietnam War, and the fragility of the USA in the period of détente. However, the USSR became characterised by the condition of stagnation and the bureaucracy became cynical and rejected the optimism of the Khruschev era. The aim of realising communism in the USSR became replaced with that of ‘developed socialism’, and this aim was itself considered dogmatic in the period of the market reforms of Gorbachev. But what was revolutionary in the Gorbachev era was the increasing criticism of the role of the party and growing support for more principled democratic forms. But the promise of Glasnost was never realised, and instead by the 1990’s there was the creation of a reactionary form of market capitalism. The 1961 programme of the CPSU seems to have been an ideological promise that was never realised because of an increasing economic decline.
The 1961 programme begins with the contention that the October revolution of 1917 initiated a process that will culminate in the victory of world communism. The political situation has been characterised by the advance of socialism, despite temporary reverses, as expressed by the victory of socialist revolution in China and Eastern Europe. It was possible for the Russian revolution to be achieved under the leadership of Marxism-Leninism, and the result has been the construction of socialism and the realisation of the aims of the programmes of 1902 and 1919. The world socialist system has been established, which is the impetus for the future progress of international revolution. Socialism is a dynamic and contrasts with the decaying of capitalism: “The first contingents of the working class to shake off capitalist oppression are facilitating fresh victories for their class brothers. The socialist world is expanding; the capitalist world is shrinking. Socialism will inevitably succeed capitalism everywhere. Such is the objective law of social development. Imperialism is powerless to check the irresistible process of emancipation.”(3)
Hence the programme has a theoretical confidence that the expansion of socialism represents a historical law of progress that will result in the inevitable victory over capitalism. This means the latter is portrayed as a declining system that may be able to achieve temporary victories over socialism but is ultimately powerless to resist the triumph of the revolutionary alternative to capitalism. However, there is a conditional and implicit aspect to this expression of historical confidence. The ability of objective laws to unfold in terms of the victory of socialism depends on the continued role of the CPSU to provide leadership and its related ability to explain social development. If this function was questioned and undermined for any given reason the subjective basis for the advance of socialism could be put into doubt. The relationship between the Communist Party and the working class would be disrupted and instead the forces of reaction would benefit. Hence the historical confidence of the programme is dependent on the continuation of the importance and international leadership of the CPSU. The forces of reaction would only gain if this hegemonic role was effectively ended. The assumption is that the prospects of the victory of world socialism are dependent on the significance of the CPSU.
In this context the role of the CPSU, and the national communist parties, replaces the historical importance of the working class as the most important agency of the process of revolutionary transformation from capitalism to socialism. We are in a process of transition from capitalism to socialism, which only Marxist-Leninism can understand. This theoretical role has obvious practical implications in terms of the possibility of advances being made under the leadership of the CPSU and other Communist Parties: “The epoch making turn of mankind from capitalism to socialism, initiated by the October revolution, is a natural result of the development of society. Marxism-Leninism discovered the objective laws of social development and revealed the contradictions inherent in capitalism, the inevitability of bringing about a revolutionary explosion and of the transition of society to communism.”(4) It is interesting that the dynamic role of the working class, via the importance of the Soviets, is omitted from this conception of the October revolution and instead this development is conceived as a party-revolution because of ability of the Bolsheviks to understand social laws. Consequently the relationship of party and class in Russia prior to the revolution is described in terms of the subordination of the class to the party: “Her working class was the most revolutionary and best organised in the world and had considerable experience of class struggle. It was led by a Marxist-Leninist party armed with an advanced revolutionary theory and steeled in class battles.”(5) The significance of the interactive relationship between party and class is replaced by the omnipotence of the party to transform history and to inaugurate the process of constructing socialism. The programme does formally remark that the working class is a revolutionary class, but the implications of this are not articulated and instead the emphasis is upon the leading role of the party in relation to the triumph of the revolution and the beginning of the development of socialism. It is obvious that the conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat is based on the influence of the role of the party, and in this manner the party substitutes for the working class as the most active and dynamic social force in the construction of socialism. Hence the problems posed by the Stalin regime and the period of terror are ignored despite the fact that this development led to the widespread demoralisation of society. (6) Instead what is assumed in a complacent manner is that the party would overcome the limitations of the despotic character of Stalin’s regime and therefore resume in a more principled manner the construction of socialism.
Part of the historical confidence of the programme is related to its description of capitalism as moribund and decaying and so the prospect of world socialist revolution is imminent. This view is one-sided in that the hegemony of the USA over world capitalism is ignored, and so is the importance of the boom that has improved the standard of living of the population of the advanced capitalist countries. In this situation the marginalisation of the Communist parties of Western Europe is also ignored, and the influence of Social Democracy is glossed over. Thus the difficulties of promoting socialism in the conditions of an improving capitalism that does not seem to decaying, and is instead in its most dynamic period of growth and affluence, is not explained. Instead the programme resorts to an ideological portrayal of capitalism that does not correspond with empirical reality. However, it also assumes that the process of the building of socialism in one country will ultimately triumph over the present situation of the domination of world capitalism. This contention is not explained except in the dogmatic terms that the revolutionary process is uneven and will ultimately be victorious. This perspective does not provide any argument that the present world domination of the USA can be overcome, and instead of this important explanation we have the contention that world socialism will be triumphant outlined in terms of vague historical laws that amount to adherence to dogma. Hence it could just as easily be argued that the USA has realised its objective of containing the expansion of the USSR and its allies. The actual situation is one of stalemate rather than the advance of socialism.
In other words the programme cannot uphold its contention that imperialism is moribund and decaying and so is in a transitional process of change to socialism. The point is that the empirical facts do not support this claim, and the process of state nationalisation seems to be an expression of the creation of the welfare state rather than related to the influence of the monopolies within society. The programme also ignores the fact that the economic situation of capitalism is one of record levels of trade and production, and so the dynamics of society are not conducive to change towards socialism. A principled programme would attempt to explain this situation rather than resort to dogma based on the role of past theory. Thus the result of this false portrayal of Western capitalism is to provide hope that change will occur, but this hope is not based on empirical justification.
The programme supports the Stalinist view that socialism was constructed in one country on the basis of nationalisation and industrialisation, together with so-called voluntary collectivisation of agriculture. Thus the opponents of socialism in one country were refuted in practice. Therefore the programme glosses over the role of repression in the creation of the collectives and ignores the development of famine. Instead it perpetuates the myth that the creation of the collectives was a voluntary process, and concludes that socialism was constructed in the 1930’s. This meant society is based on the alliance of the workers and peasants, together with the role of the strata of the intelligentsia. It is argued that socialism is a society without exploitation and that people have a creative interest in the act of labour, and national oppression has been ended and genuine democracy has been realised. The programme hints at problems during the process of socialist construction but these are not elaborated, and instead the analysis of the development of socialism in the USSR has two major conclusions: “Soviet experience has shown that the socialist state is the main instrument for the socialist transformation of society. The state organises and unites the masses, exercises planned leadership of economic and cultural construction, and safeguards the revolutionary gains of the people.”(7) And: “Soviet experience has fully borne out the Marxist Leninist theory that the Communist Party plays a decisive role in the formation and development of socialist society. Only a party that steadfastly pursues a class, proletarian policy, and is equipped with progressive, revolutionary theory, only a party solidly united and closely linked with the masses, can organise the people and lead them to the victory of socialism.”(8)
In other words the programme upholds the view that the process of the building of socialism is primarily based on the significance and leadership of the party-state, and the role of the working class and peasantry is to follow the dictates of the revolutionary organisation. The actual significance of the working class for the creation of socialism is minimised by this elitist standpoint and instead the revolutionary role of this social force is personified by the leadership of the party. The party substitutes itself for the class, and so cannot act in a manner that would undermine the success of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Indeed the role of the party is an expression of this dictatorship. Therefore, the excesses of the Stalin era cannot be considered as undermining the ability of the party to be the guardian of socialist construction. The period of despotism and terror did not result in the erosion of the capacity of the party to continue to build socialism. Hence the limitations of Stalinism did not end the ability of the party to supervise the process of socialist development. Thus the reactionary aspects of Stalinism did not justify a new proletarian revolution in order to end the despotism within the state and political superstructure.
This standpoint is not tenuous. If it is being admitted that Stalin created a regime of terror, then it is also being admitted that the party had degenerated to the point that it could no longer supervise the process of construction of socialism in a principled manner. The party is effectively considered as a despotic instrument that can no longer administer and lead the dictatorship of the proletariat. However, the programme cannot make this conclusion because it would bring into question the role of the party in the development of socialism, and instead the result is effective silence about the implications of Stalin’s regime. Stalin becomes written out of history, and instead the party as a collective organisation is considered the primary and essentially principled instrument for the building of socialism. The role of Stalin’s despotic regime is not considered to be an expression of the undermining of the ability of the party-state to provide the leading role in the creation of a socialist society. Instead in terms of the principles of peace, proletarian internationalism, and support for the ultimate aim of world socialism, the CPSU is considered to be an intransigent agency of the attempt to defeat the forces of capitalism.
The programme also contends that the since the Second World War there has been the development of a world socialist camp that is based on the principles of nationalisation of the economy, a similar political system and ideology, relations of cooperation, unity and solidarity and equality. The dominating role of the USSR is denied within this bloc, and any suggestion of exploitation by the USSR is replaced with the view that the development of any particular socialist country is in the interests of the whole bloc. The result is that: “A new type of international division of labour is taking shape in the process of the economic, scientific and technical co-operation of the socialist countries, the co-ordination of their economic plans, production specialisation and co-operation.”(9) The main problem in relation to the prospect of developing the unity of the world socialist camp is said to be nationalism, but an explanation of nationalism is not provided. This is significant because it is obviously the domination of the USSR that generates the influence of nationalism. Hence nationalism is primarily portrayed as an ideological viewpoint that is inherited from capitalism. The prospect that the USSR exploits Eastern Europe is not discussed as a reason for nationalism, instead the character of imperialism is connected exclusively with capitalism and the role of the traditional colonial powers.
The beginning of the general crisis of world capitalism is located with the First World War, and this was effectively continued with the Second World War, and the third period of crisis has been indicated by the victory of colonial revolution which has weakened the economic system. Measures of state regulation including nationalisation has not overcome the anarchic and contradictory character of capitalism, and the welfare state has not resolved the difference between effective demand and output. Unemployment is still a problem. Thus the Social Democrats are wrong to claim that the development of state monopoly capitalism is a prelude to socialism. This perspective of the CPSU is dogmatic and simplistic for the reasons already given, but the programme is more accurate when claiming that the USA is the bulwark of reaction. However the programme is also dogmatic when it asserts that inter-imperialist contradictions continue despite the hegemony of the USA, but the view that the monopolies dominate society is not inaccurate. However the conclusion that is made from the above analysis is both simplistic and dogmatic: “Thus, the world imperialist system is rent by deep-rooted and acute contradictions. The antagonism of labour and capital, the contradictions between the people and the monopolies, growing militarism, the break-up of the colonial system, the contradictions between the young national states and the old colonial powers, and most important of all – the rapid growth of world socialism, sapping and destroying imperialism, leading to its weakening and collapse.”(10)
This perspective implies that the capitalist system is not in a period of growth and boom and instead is being seriously undermined by important contradictions. However it could be argued that the antagonism of labour and capital is not intensifying because of improving standards of living and the introduction of the welfare state. The successes of reformism are modifying the pre-war tensions of capitalism. Whilst the demise of the colonial system is being replaced by the domination of semi-colonies by the imperialist powers, and the apparent expansion of socialism is undermined by the limitations of Stalinism and the generation of Soviet imperialism. In this situation of boom, the USA is able to promote itself and the capitalist system as an example of efficiency and prosperity, a land of plenty and ample consumer goods, which contrasts favourably with the shortages and waste of the USSR. Hence the presentation of the capitalist system as representing poverty is antiquated and ignores the post-war affluence and therefore tries to deny the ability of Western countries to create a system of plenty and real gains for working people. But the programme is realistic when it admits that the most important imperialist countries have achieved a certain unity in opposition to the USSR and the world socialist camp.