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50 years of Critique

Published: 13 November 2023

Critique's 50th annual conference, held on 10th of June 2023, opened with a brief history of the journal from two stalwarts

Michael Cox is Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a founding Director of LSE IDEAS.

Hillel Ticktin is Emeritus Professor of Marxist Studies at the University of Glasgow and founding editor of the journal.

Mick Cox: Welcome, everybody here and online. My name is Mick Cox I've been associated with Critique for 50 years, whose 50th anniversary we're commemorating and celebrating this morning. Before Hillel, speaks, I thought I would provide a few brief reflections of my own. I have just been looking through the early issues of Critique: almost collector's items now! And one or two things struck me. First, how successful we were in bringing out the journal quite regularly, a remarkable feat given that our resource base was low. The second point to note is the origin of Critique at Glasgow University where nearly all of us met doing research and postgraduate work. It was here that we met Hillel in the Institute of Soviet and East European Studies. But it was in the Institute's coffee room that we all used to sit around arguing about the nature of the Soviet Union and how to characterize it!

As for Critique itself it is very interesting to see what a wide range of people wrote for it and were associated with it at the start. Some remained connected, some did not. Our first advisory editorial board, for instance, included Paul Sweezy and Ernest Mandel. Our early speakers were also a diverse group from both Eastern Europe and from the West. Ralph Miliband for instance spoke at one of our first conferences, even before Critique came out. When the first Critique was published in spring 1973, we'd already held two conferences. The first conference was held in Glasgow in January 1972, on the Russian Revolution. Some of those lectures appeared in a later edition of the journal. One of those was by James or Jimmy White on the historiography of the Russian Revolution.

Our second conference was held in 1972, with about 400 people attending. This gives you an idea of the interesting times we were then living through. I think we held it at University College London. It is interesting to look at some of the main speakers at the time. Ernest Mandel was there, Jiří Pelikán from the Czech opposition who was in exile, plus Ralph Miliband. And of course, certain people from Critique itself.

As for the journal itself. The first article in the first journal was on ‘Workers' councils in Czechoslovakia'. It followed on from 1968 and what happened there afterwards. Then there was Hillel's seminal article on ‘Towards the political economy of the USSR', where Hillel laid out his theory, which became the Critique theory of the Soviet Union. Hillel will speak to that. I'm not going to. Then there was Jimmy White's piece. This was followed by an article by an old friend of ours, David-Hillel Rubin, who wrote on Godelier’s Marxism. There was a series of book reviews as well. I did one on the Congress of the Toilers of the East, which was held in 1920 when Zinoviev made a major and rather extraordinary speech. Tamara Deutscher also did a very good and interesting review of the work of Victor Serge, Year One of the Revolution.

If you look at people who came on to the board, they didn't all agree with us, as you know, although Paul Sweezy remained friendly nonetheless, given he was very much oriented toward China at the time, and didn't quite agree with our particular view. We also tried to bring in as many academics as possible and as many students at the time as well, as you can see from those numbers, who came to the October 1972 conference, over 400. It does give you a flavor of the time in a sense of, you know, the dynamics of the time as well and the range of issues discussed including by David Law, who wrote a PhD on the left opposition; others wrote on Ukraine, the workers' opposition. Hillel, I'll hand it over to you.

Hillel Ticktin: Well, thank you. I think you’ve given a fair introduction, which I can add to. In fact, I’ve got a couple of Critiques here. The first issue came out, I think, in 1973. It's 50 years since then. The issue itself had a series of articles already mentioned by Mick. The article I wrote there, which was on the political economy of the Soviet Union, was actually referred to two or three years ago by someone who I don't know, in the former Soviet Union in terms of the present opposition within Russia today. The article I wrote, in other words, describes the nature, the theoretical nature of the underpinning of the Soviet Union of the time. So it's interesting that Critique continues to the present day in that sense, which of course is what it intended. And I think it's true of many of the other articles. It just happens that in Critique 1, the article I wrote happens to be read today, which surprised me. Anyway, to actually return to the proper topic. Mick referred to and had, I think he said, 400. I thought it was 500 and it was quite extensive in the kind of people who actually attended it.

Different currents and all the rest at that time. The views that Critique was putting forward and still puts forward were quite different from the rest of the left. And it's much more on that that I will concentrate. The Institute itself was or is an interesting department to have to actually describe insofar as the professor in charge had been appointed relatively late in terms of its actual existence. That's to say it had come into existence quite a few years before he was appointed in 1963. That was Alec Nove, and Nove himself did his best to adapt to whatever was necessary to adapt to. That's to say he came from a Menshevik background. His parents were Mensheviks who were exiled in the 1920s. And he had adapted to more or less, the kind of viewpoint of the Labor Party. Not that he was militant about his politics at all. However, the point behind it is of course that Nove was crucial in trying to – I’m not clear on the word – hold back or not appreciate our actual development. He eventually couldn't stand it, in fact, and resigned as a head of department. And when he turned 65, he had to retire.

And when Gorbachev came to power, I think Nove actually met him and the two got on very well, it would appear. Which gives you some idea of the background of the institute itself, which we were in, you know. The other members of the department were varied, including one member who had escaped from the Soviet Union in the middle 1930s or at the time of the purges or just before the purges, and remained fairly loyal, one might say, in not wanting to criticize the Soviet Union. Although he was in the institute, having escaped from the Soviet Union he had eventually found his way to Britain and to a job. His wife went back to East Germany at one point after he died. And really, that's kind of where he stood, somewhere in the middle. Uh, I remember him saying that, I think he was present in 1934 at the Congress, which was held in Russia and in the Soviet Union at that time, the regular meeting of the party or irregular meeting of the party. And he said that not everything about that meeting had been revealed. That was of course after Khruschev.

Mick Cox: The person you’re talking about was Rudolf Schlesinger, wasn't it?

Hillel Ticktin: Yes.

Mick Cox: You didn't mention his name.

Hillel Ticktin: Yeah. Thanks. Yes, let's talk about Rudolf. Yeah. Anyway, the point is that in the Institute itself you had a range of viewpoints with him, effectively some kind of critical support of the of the Soviet Union as it had developed. Schlesinger refused to talk to me because I was so critical of the Soviet Union. And when I actually came to the institute, he made it his job to come and speak to me and then decided I was a lost cause, which would indicate, of course, where he actually stood. And he died in 1969. So I only overlapped with him by four years. Sadly, of course, he would have been a very interesting person to be able to talk to in some detail. Anyway, the point is that there were a number of people, including Jack Miller, who was the de facto kind of head before Nove arrived, who had belonged to the Communist Party in Britain and had actually gone to the Soviet Union in 1939. Amazingly enough, this is at a time when Rudolf Schlesinger had already escaped from the Soviet Union. Rather interesting that they were together in one department, but that was the nature of the department. The department, in other words was not left-wing. It was somewhere in the center.

There were a few other people, but they were more or less secondary. In 1970 there was a change when quite a few people came from Canada with a background of parents who had left the Soviet Union or had left Russia and gone to Canada. This was a period which began in roughly 1963 in the United States with a move to the left. And in1968, of course, you had the demonstrations in Paris. So students in general tended to move to the left, which was a sharp difference from what had existed before and of course, a sharp difference what happened afterwards, which was roughly in 1975, 1976 that it began to change back again. But in this period, which Mick was talking about, as I say, it's 1970–1975 or so, the students tended to be left-wing, in fact. And Bohdan Kravchenko was one of the most important who came over. It would have been nice to have him here as well to give further details. Anyway, the point is that left-wing students then came to the institute, which they hadn't before. I think when Mick came there were the three students and from there we actually developed this attempt to get an alternative understanding of the Soviet Union, which wasn't simplistic, unlike that Cold War type of understanding.

Of course it was pretty awful. But that kind of approach didn't try and analyze what it was and why it was so awful. So it ranged from the attitude which was very much like much of what came from the United States at that time. And from the various exiles from the Soviet Union as well. So it ranged from that too. There was a viewpoint which of course more or less worshipped the Soviet Union from the various communist parties. And what became clear, I think, to the students, apart from myself, was that what was required was something different, something which did really analyze the society, and understood that it wasn't a society which could last very long and had to come to an end – we didn't know exactly when, what or how, but at some point in the future.

And it was very difficult at the time to put that across. And I saw that as an important part of what we were doing. That's to say, we were trying to genuinely analyze the Soviet Union, where it came from, what really happened and why it couldn't possibly last, which of course, we know turned out to be true. It's now 30 years after it actually came to an end. What is true is the enormous contrast one gets between the Soviet Union coming to an end in 1991, officially coming to an end in 1991 when it simply comes to an end – finished, the majority walk out. Exactly what that meant isn't very clear even today because the fact is there was a vote a couple of months before they decided to call it quits, where the votes were actually for continuing the Soviet Union, but of course, in the new form initiated by Gorbachev, with glasnost’ and perestroika. That didn't happen, it simply crumbled and fell to pieces. And, of course, it's interesting that in 2018 there was a poll investigating what the attitude of the population was and something like two-thirds of the population wanted to go back to the Soviet Union. That's the Russia of today. Two-thirds actually want to go back to the Soviet Union, which might give you the wrong impression of what the Soviet Union was like. If one viewed it simplistically.

But that's a reality. So I’m citing this in order to indicate the complexity of the nature of the Soviet Union itself. But also, as I indicated in the beginning, the Soviet Union for the majority of its inhabitants, when I was living there, which was from 1961 to 1965. Of course, I got married there which made it much easier to understand the society. I say that because when I first met my wife I was shocked really by how critical she was of the Soviet Union, and she just took that for granted. She herself knew that I wasn't going to give her away, but everyone else, everybody I spoke to who wasn’t in my confidence proclaimed effectively their loyalty and how wonderful the Soviet Union was. And the interesting thing about that, which most people didn't understand and it took me at least two years to understand, was that it was a necessity for everybody in the Soviet Union to proclaim that they loved the Soviet Union and that were not going to act against it, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But this was far worse than any dictatorship which had ever existed in that – just in that respect.

But in this respect, it was so total because, of course, to get on to exist and to avoid making the wrong steps or saying the wrong thing, it meant that everybody had to adapt to it, and to adapt to it properly so that you didn't make a mistake at the wrong time or place. Or say something while you were not thinking properly. Whatever. In order to avoid that, you really had to ensure that some part of you really did believe it. Even if, when you left the country, you could relax. And the result was that the population in general, at a fundamental level, knew that the system was not functioning in a way which was necessary to get the loyalty of the inhabitants, the full loyalty of the inhabitants. And it was not functioning to provide the necessities of life sufficiently quickly. And it was not functioning in getting workers to work with some sort of conscience over their work. Most people, when working, really didn't care tuppence what happened to what they were doing and their attitude in terms of work was worse than that in any other country. That's to say, they didn't like working, that is to say, I’m talking about everyday work and the work of the majority of the population.

Scientists could get to love their work in some sort of sense. Somebody who is deeply involved with it could remain deeply involved. And that, of course, is what happened to scientists, that would become their reason for living as it were. But extremity of the forms of control were very much part of the system. And that was true throughout. I remember when I left the Soviet Union, I was told by somebody who obviously belonged to secret police, ‘Don't tell anybody what you’ve seen’. He actually said that to me, ‘Don't tell anybody what you’ve seen’. In other words, the everyday life here is not something that you can tell the rest of the world. You mustn't. Please don't do it. (He didn't say please.) Just don't do it. Yeah. That was the nature of the society. The secret police was absolutely central to the system. And of course, a considerable number of people, as we know, were jailed. But it was far worse than that in the earlier period, when I think the number is 12 million people who were actually killed. Now, the reversal of that attitude which took place under Khrushchev wasn't maintained in the crucial sense of revealing that the regime had killed something around 12 million people. But of course the population knew and knew what it had been like. But Khrushchev was removed. It's interesting that he was removed, of course. And I think from this point of view, he would have been regarded as a liability too in 1963. I was there at the time when he left. And I remember well how when he left, there were crowds going through Red Square talking to each other, which was a first time people were able to speak to one another like that since the early 1920s. You didn't have to be a genius to see that this couldn't last because it didn't have any basis to last, because they weren't introducing any kind of democratic form, it just didn't exist at all. And the whole system was a hierarchical one in which the elite were privileged. They really were privileged. They were given their own supplies, and daily almost, quite separately from the rest of the population. There was a separate hospital, et cetera, et cetera. There's no question it was a governing elite which stood over the rest of the population. But at the same time, it wasn't an elite which was there because their parents had money or even necessarily because their parents had contacts, although certainly in the later years that would have helped. The situation was that the people who entered the elite had managed to do so by particular contacts, by knowing how to act in a way which maintained the system, et cetera.

And you didn't have to be a genius to work out that that kind of system can't last. So they didn't really have an incentive system for the majority of the population. Obviously the incentive for the elite was to try and maintain themselves in power, but it was very difficult given that, of course, the majority, even if they couldn't express their discontent, were discontented, and everyone knew it. So what you had was an unelected elite which wasn't there because it had money. It wasn't there because their parents were there, though that could happen, particularly in the later years. It was a separate elite, which quite obviously was in trouble. And Khrushchev, of course, knew that. And he did change. And they would have had to go further toward something of an elective system, but they weren't able to do it. Well, they were worried. Khrushchev and the rest of the elite, the actual government, and consequently they removed him. He understood, of course, what had happened, and knew that he couldn't really revolt against it. Molotov had been removed by him and Molotov was sent to the Far East and then came back to Russia. One day I was walking in one of the main streets in Moscow and I almost bumped into him.

I was walking along a pavement. He was walking along the opposite side, and it was very interesting to see somebody who had survived from the beginning of the Soviet Union, which was in itself surprising, walking with his wife, who looked awful. I mean, I mean her face looked awful. She looked like a product of the camps where she had been jailed. And he had said he couldn't protect her. And I think it was six years, eight years that she had been imprisoned. Anyway, the point is the understanding of the Soviet Union could not really be developed within the Soviet Union itself, because of the controls and the possibility that whatever you did would leak out, even if you took extreme precautions. Eventually somebody would know and would report you. People were always afraid of that. And while some people might write on a piece of paper and show it to no one, clearly the majority didn't. The consequence was that there wasn't an analysis of what really existed. There wasn't even a partial analysis of what existed. So after it came to an end, after 1991, there was a kind of blank about the genuine nature of the Soviet Union. And the analysis in general in what we might call the standard literature in the West has been superficial, very superficial.

The very fact that such a society could exist for over 70 years ought to be examined in great detail. Of course, there were people who managed to survive from the beginning. Very few. But they did. And they obviously could describe their experiences. But the theory of what actually happened is another matter. Now, the problem with that, of course, is that it does require a separate and penetrating analysis of the whole period and why it could come into existence in that extreme form. And then, as I said, one didn't have to be a genius to work out that it would come to an end. And this is why I said that quite quickly after I reckoned I could say it, as it were, from 1970 onwards. But I don't think there were all that many people who thought I was saying anything which bore a possibility of being true. But it turned out to be true very quickly. The point behind this is that the analysis, a full analysis, a detailed analysis and a theoretical position has to be properly written from our point of view. And from that point of view, what we have to show is that this is part of the transitional period.

In other words, what I’m saying is that the theoretical analysis of how the Soviet Union was possible for so long, then became impossible, has still to be written. The detail can be written in individual parts and the system can be described. But to understand how it developed, why it developed, why it came to an end requires a more profound theoretical analysis. Obviously I’ve tried to do bits of it. Clearly any discussion of the nature of the Soviet Union has to involve the nature of the transition period itself: the nature of the period that we are living through. Unless one simply argues that what exists is capitalism and capitalism is here and will be here until the end of time, which some people argue, and some people even argue in terms of the market going back to the beginning of humanity. Well, obviously, we don't subscribe to that viewpoint, which in my view is simply nonsense. But it is obviously in the interests of the ruling class within capitalism to argue that capitalism is eternal and that capitalism can eternally provide everything that is required. Well, it's quite clear that it can't. Today we have a situation in the Third World, and in the world more widely too, in which the population is in considerable trouble simply in terms of everyday life, that's to say, in terms of getting adequate and good quality food and proper housing and education. It's quite clear that that is the case and that it has, in fact, got worse in recent periods. The population has reached 8 billion. When the Soviet Union came into existence, the global population was between 2 and 3 billion. So the global population has increased very considerably and it's clear that a change to the system is required, well, for the population of the world as a whole. Obviously, if all you are thinking about is your own particular comfort, and you are able to live as a middle-class person in the developed world, you can shut your eyes to this need for change. And whereas, in the immediate post-war period in Britain, the differential range of income between the worker and the manager or executive was something like a multiple of 12, today it's between 200 and 600 times. The fact is that the right, or the ruling class, decided in 1980 to reverse this balance in the distribution of wealth. So at the same time, if we look at the state of the economy, the global economy, or the British economy, or the US economy, it is effectively static. What we had after 1945 was a boom of that kind in which the ruling class managed to give itself a lot of money and in which it was able to extend itself, as it were, to a limited degree.

Today we have five basic American firms which dominate the world economy. The capitalist argument in terms of competition looks very weak now as opposed to earlier times and after the 1980s, when the propaganda was that society would simply go onwards and upwards. But In fact, for most people it didn't. And a substantial proportion of the population in America, the lower middle class, simply lost out. And since the crash between 2006 and 2008, in the United States, which went right, right around the world, the global economy has been mired in a mess and has been growing at a very slow rate if it is growing at all. Quite obviously, it didn't grow during the recent period of the epidemic. But it doesn't look like it's going to change from the static period before the epidemic. It's clear even to the sections of the ruling class, and it's clear in America that they have to do something about it. That's to say, the discontent of the majority of the population has to be assuaged. The fact that, as I just said, the majority of the global population is in considerable trouble with income, with obtaining enough to eat, et cetera, is clear. The ruling class is aware of this, but there are no measures for change now. What it looks like is that the ruling class is split, and this is quite obvious in the United States. And again, if we look at Britain, the way the Conservative Party has split apart, this shows that the way forward is not at all clear to the ruling class. Or even if they want to maintain themselves as that ruling class.

Of course, the argument of the Third International that we’re living in a transitional period was put forward in 1917, and still applies today. The argument, discussed in Critique 5, doesn't say the transition is actually being successful. It just states that it is a period. And it's clear that the kind of transition that Marx talked of is not taking place and has not been reached. One could argue that in some sense, underneath what exists in the modern economy, the means of production are actually developing (and we have the prospect of AI), even if that development is a lot slower than it could be if you had a socialist society. But it is limited. You have a high level of discontent within the population as a whole and the interest of most, of many people at work, in improving their work is much less than it could be. In other words, the transition period at the present time is a period of decline. But what a transitional period is also supposed to be is a period of real change toward a more successful society, toward a socialist society, in one word. And while the underpinnings of that are developing, insofar as the economy, the means of production are actually developing very considerably, but not as fast as in a socialist society in which one could provide the resources for change and the goals required in order to develop that society for the majority of the population.

So we are effectively in this period in which it is clear that the global capitalist economy is in decline and this is particularly true of the United States.

It has, in fact, not been able to continue that hope of building society on a new level, which was effectively what was being promised at one time. The society remains stuck at low, low growth levels. This is particularly true of Britain, where the growth rate is close to zero or negative. And it's clearly a country itself in decline. Well, one might expect Britain, which after all, was a leading country, the dominant country before 1920, and to some degree until fairly recently, one would expect that it would go into this kind of decline unless it tried to take real steps forward, which go beyond capitalism, which obviously it isn't going to do in this immediate period, because the forces for socialism in the present moment appear to be almost as weak as one would fear. And that's to say where we see a large number of strikes, which hopefully are indications of change – and there are indications of change – but that's as far as it goes. I would expect those indications of change to develop, but it looks as if it will take some time. I would hope that it won't take quite as long as might be thought, because the fact is there is no revolutionary socialist party of any extent or depth. And today the end of the Stalinist Communist Party would appear to have not led to the building up of a genuine socialist party which could act as a real opposition to the bourgeoisie itself. However, I think we can say that it is inevitable that real opposition will develop, although I personally almost certainly will not be here. But I think we can expect it to be developed and we can see the trends. We can see that, although the last 30 years have not been a step forward. That step forward is lying in wait, as it were, at the present time. Thank you.

Mick Cox: Could I just add a couple of points very briefly to the origin of Critique and people who were involved in it who I think deserve a mention. You touched on a number of those, two or three general points I made. I mean, one is clearly the origin of Critique, apart from your own work on theory and arguments, which of course were very much derived from having lived in the Soviet Union, and I think that needs to be stressed. The very fact that you lived there for a period of time, absorbed the society, understood it from within rather than the general theorization of it from without, I think that was really crucial. But I think also and you mentioned this, there was a change in the nature of students from the late 1960s and into the 1970s. It's doubtful, it seems to me, that without you it would ever have come into being with the particular view that it had and developed. On the other hand, I think without that kind of wave, if that's the right word, or surge, new students coming in the 1960s and early 1970s into the Institute with certain views about the world, the nature of the world, it's very difficult to think that Critique would have gone very much further than it did, it seems to me. And I’m not just talking about myself, of course. You mentioned a number who came from Canada.

Bohdan Kravchenko particularly brought a number of very important people through. I’d also mention Suzi Weissman, who went on to write a biography of Victor Serge and again, Don Filtzer, who did work on the nature of the Soviet working class, which was really quite important. I’d mentioned Dave Law, who did very good work on the history of the left oppositions. And another guy who sadly I haven't seen for a very long time called Sandy Smith, who did a lot of work on the economics of agriculture. There was, in other words, a very large number of people, here today, you know, who were in at the beginning who did form a mass of people, a critical mass of people. And I think again, as well as your own work, of course, that was very critical. And something like Critique could not come to being today, I don't think in the same way. There is another thing I’d like to also say something about very quickly, without going on for too long. You talked about the origin of Soviet Studies itself in Glasgow. It's very interesting. If you go back and look at the two founders of Soviet Studies, though not that we were part of Soviet Studies – in some ways you indicated we were very critical of both what Jack Miller had been writing over the years, and particularly, of course, Rudolf Schlesinger, whom we met, whom you mentioned especially, and was a remarkable figure, who had been born in Austria, just managed to get out of Nazi occupied Europe in the late 1930s, came to Britain and with Jack Miller established what was then the journal Soviet Studies.

They were quite open. I mean, Jack, Jack Miller, whom I met once or twice; obviously very likely, I think he was clearly a member of the party at the time. And later on, of course, Rudolf Schlesinger. I don't think he ever left the party really. I mean, I think if not the Communist Party, then the wider sense of the CPSU, I mean, I don't think he ever wanted to leave and I think he was expelled, and was always looking for a way back in. But his writings were really quite crucial in defining what Soviet Studies was in that early period. I see Paul Flewers is here. Paul would know something about this as well. It's quite interesting to see who wrote in the early, early Soviet Studies and who associated themselves with it. I mention two or three names. One was Maurice Dobb, the Cambridge Communist Party economist who was a big supporter of Soviet Studies, as indeed, by the way, was E.H. Carr, who was then undertaking the beginnings of his work on the early Soviet revolution. And again, I think the role of Carr in Soviet Studies more generally is one I think we recognize today, and we might be very critical of much about Carr, but he was really quite important.

The other third person who was very different to Dobb and very different to Carr was Isaac Deutscher. Tamara definitely, obviously did write for Soviet Studies and for Critique. I don't think Isaac ever did. But nonetheless, Isaac Deutscher did write a very interesting article in Soviet Studies in 1955, which was an attack on E.H. Carr, who was a close friend. But all I’m trying to do is give a kind of general feeling of what it was like within Soviet Studies and the framework which you could then see coming into development in the 1960s and 1970s, whether it could have come into being at the LSC, which was dominated by very different kinds of people, or whether even in Birmingham, I don't know, but there was a framework, at least. Some people I just want to mention, I do think need mentioning just by way of record, I think Mandel you know. Ernest Mandel I mean, we look back, I mean, he wrote for Critique. I mean, he didn't necessarily have to agree with it, but he spoke at conferences pretty regularly. He was open to debate. He was very much open to debate at the time.

And, you know, his passing, I think, was a huge loss, although, you didn't agree with him, Hillel, and he obviously didn't agree with you. And obviously notions of the workers’ state or however degenerate was not the view that we held. Nonetheless, it was at least testimony to Mandel, I think, to make the point that he was open to that kind of discussion, as indeed was the person who came, who got in, which was Peter Sedgwick, somebody who also needs to be remembered at an occasion like this. Peter, of course, was a great interpreter of Victor Serge and brought his writings to an English speaking audience. And he was on the board for a period of time of Critique and he was very open as well. So I just want to mention those very, very, very general things by way of the origins, the history, because it can get lost. But I think  …  by the way, if somebody later on, you know, might be interested to hear it. When I arrived in Glasgow, nearly the first thing I did in 1969 was to attend Rudolf Schlesinger's funeral. It was assumed that we would all go and in fact, we all went to Rudolf Schlesinger's funeral, which was on Helensburgh directly opposite, very interestingly, the nuclear submarine base, which we were most annoyed about, as well as his formidable wife.

So yeah, it was a very, very interesting place to join. The other thing I’d mentioned is the notion of the role of the exile in a debate about Soviet Studies as well. I think it was very crucial at the time. Nove was an exile, he was an exile from the Russian Revolution. He was a former Menshevik or basically a Social Democrat in essence, but many, many others at the institute at the time and in other places were kind of exiles from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. I’ll mention a few Republicans. There were a number of others – Ivan Szelenyi, and a number of others who played who played a role as well. So I just wanted to mention that. So those are just a few additional comments. Just by way of background, to add to what you said earlier on, I should also mention David Hillel Rubin, who was very important and Scott Meikle, who was very, very important at that time as well. I hope I haven't left anybody out and no doubt I have. But if I have, I apologize in advance.

Hillel Ticktin: I met Isaac Deutscher's wife, who I don't know if you noticed, but in her comments she basically embraced what I said, which surprised me since Deutscher's attitude was more reformist, I thought. And in fact, I’ve written to that effect. His conception of the Soviet Union after the changes which took place after Stalin's death, was to almost to regard them as having reformed sufficiently, which surprised me. But I think he didn't really understand what was happening in the Soviet Union. His wife actually praised me for what I was saying. I didn't say anything about Isaac Deutscher, of course, But I actually met her in her house. She, she obviously liked what I was saying, so I don't know if it was any connection or is any connection. So perhaps I’m judging Isaac Deutscher too adversely or something. But my impression of Isaac Deutscher is that he didn't properly understand what was happening in the Soviet Union and what had happened. He was critical, obviously, at some level. But if you look at what he actually wrote during the war and afterwards, I certainly would be very critical of Isaac Deutscher.

That isn't to say I don't like the other things he wrote. Regarding the various people mentioned. I did meet Maurice Dobb on one occasion. And, of course, I met Mandel a number of times. I couldn't agree with either of them. I think the nature of the Soviet Union in both their eyes, although they were very different, was much better than it actually was. Both in terms of the everyday life of ordinary people and in terms of the programs which actually were being used. I don't think people realize the depth to which the Soviet leaders had actually gone. And the fact was that even after Khrushchev was replaced, quite a few people suffered in whatever form – being jailed or losing their jobs. Or of course, there was a kind of revolt as well. So people were killed. So it's very difficult to actually save the reputations of these people, I think. I don't think E.H. Carr understood the Soviet Union at all. When reading his work on the Soviet Union before the purges, I really don't think he did understand. It's useful for its detail but it's very limited in its understanding of what was really happening. In regard to Mandel, well Mandel was a reformist of a kind in looking at the Soviet Union. But he seemed to have different viewpoints at different times. When I first met him and in fact, I spoke in Berlin at a conference, at which he was the main speaker, I think there were about 3000 people present, and at the time he seemed to pick up what I was saying. Well, that's to say we appeared to agree, but he later seemed to have reverted to a greater acceptance of that nature of the Soviet Union. That's to say a positive acceptance. He was critical in the standard Trotskyist viewpoint of saying that what existed was undemocratic, but that there had been important reforms and it was a step toward socialism. Emphatically, it wasn't a step toward socialism. Well we can see that today. Very obviously it wasn't. It was the reverse. And it may well be that we look at the effects of it, the way it made people turn to the other side, whether through reading or because they were involved in the various operations of Trotskyist groups, and think it also tended to hold back the movement toward socialism in the world. Not that it was the crucial element in that. It wasn't. But what is being required is a full criticism of the whole nature of Stalinism on the one hand, and a clear alternative.

We must try and get there. And part of the problem with many chances is that it's not a problem of Trotskyism. It's a problem of Trotskyist groups that they very quickly become possessive of whatever they’ve managed to achieve or whatever arguments they produce. They remain with them to the end of their lives without seeing what the critiques could be. However, in general, in my view, Trotsky was correct. Not every word he said was correct. And what he argued before 1917 was actually dubious. But the Trotskyist groups in my understanding, are in fact a step forward, even if they many of them don't know quite what they’re saying or where they’re going. Obviously, it's complex. It’s the question of a transition period and mode of production, et cetera, which was raised and modernization. It's very hard to say that in the 1930s, when millions were killed, when the nature of what was actually produced in industry, as to say it tended to fall to pieces, and when so many people didn't have enough to eat, it's very hard to say that there was any kind of progress there. One has to say the exact reverse. You can't say that.

So, okay, if we leave out the war, which we can also argue was what they ought to have done at the beginning of the war, the Second World War, in the period after 1945 again, the fact is the purges reappeared. And if we look at what was being built, well, yes, they got the atomic bomb and they used atomic power and so forth. That is true. And industry was built. But if you actually look at that industry and what it ought to have been, there's a big difference. Leaving aside the fact that it was no joy being a Soviet worker. Leaving aside that the whole system was one which was the opposite of development, and it was very difficult for ordinary people. Clearly, that was very, very true under Stalin. It was less true after Stalin, after the reforms of Khrushchev. But again, if you actually look at it, assuming that we leave out the question of purges and people being jailed for criticizing or whatever, if you actually look at the nature of their industry, it was relatively, I don't know if the word is backward, but it was certainly at a lower level that that the same industry in the West, it was less developed or less properly developed.

I have to say, I went around one at least one factory, and I was amazed by the crudity of it. The problem there wasn't only the nature of the system, it was the relative lack of resources. That's to say, processed resources that they had. Of course they had the minerals which you could dig out, but you have to bring them. You had to dig them out and change them, et cetera. The system was unbelievably inefficient. And it's not surprising that it was, given the nature of that regime. And it's very difficult to talk of them being a kind of economy which gave some sort of lesson to the world in growth or was the best that could be done with growth. It wasn't. It was almost the exact reverse. Growth was a lot lower than it ought to have been and would have been even in a capitalist, well, especially in a capitalist framework, of course it would be below what it would be in a socialist framework. But it was very much below what existed in the West. And that was because of the total lack of interest in actually working. And let's say people had an automatic feeling of opposition. They would work as slowly as possible and often as poorly as possible.

And this isn't some question of psychology. You only have to read the amount of time taken to build something, well, and what they do first and what they do last to realize that the nature of the system itself tended to make it more backward and tended to make it slower and tended to put it in a position where it couldn't compete with the West. That was obvious. It couldn't compete with the West. I think everybody knows the Soviet car well. It just wasn't a success in the West. And they ended up importing the Fiat. That's to say importing the parts of the Fiat or aspects of the Fiat when they built a car. You can't separate the failure of a system and the actual nature of production. In this case the forces of production as they were being developed were not socialist forms. And they couldn't operate a fully capitalist form either. And partly because of the lack of resources and partly because the system itself wasn't, I’d say it wasn't liked, people didn't work. Again, the word isn't appreciated. But people inherently found the system itself difficult to cope with, if you want to be nice about it, otherwise you have to say that the system itself simply didn't work.

People were obviously critical of the system itself and consequently didn't excuse it. On the one hand, you couldn't stand up in an empty space and make a speech criticizing what existed without actually attacking the system. You couldn't do that. Even that certainly couldn't stand up and criticize the system. And that was true. And it meant, of course, that what ought to have been there wasn't there, in terms of examining what existed and what the alternatives were, how it ought to be done, what people should have got for whatever the result was, that obviously everybody in one sense was discontented. They wanted something else, something better. And under Khrushchev, it did get easier. I remember being surprised when I went to a cafe to have a meal. And this was quite soon after I arrived in 1961. And there were a number of workers sitting close to me, and they were discussing how the work should be done. And when I asked a question or whatever, they said, look, we know perfectly well what's wrong. And it was true they did, but what they didn't know was how to change it. Well, how would you change it except with a revolution?

Yeah. So I don't think you can talk of the actual development of forces of production very much. It depends on exactly what you’re talking about, undoubtedly. They got an atomic bomb and they did build it, as we can see now, with what's happening in Ukraine with their atomic power and how they are invading Ukraine and trying to capture them. What's interesting is just how many instances there are of that kind of how many they actually did erect. It's true they did use atomic power. The problem was, of course, that you need more than atomic power. It was simply easier to put up a power station then to do the same thing as existed in the West.

The problem is that the Soviet Union, in one sense wasn't a system. That is to say it didn't have the interrelationships, which a system does, to improve what actually exists. What existed in the Soviet Union was something which most people realized, whether they opposed the system or not, or whether they thought they opposed it or not, or whether they officially liked it, was a system that most people realized didn't work. It was hard to think, hard to think anything else, given the way it had actually developed. That was evident from the late 1970s, and very, very evident by the 1980s. Remember, what happened in the Soviet Union was that the section of the party to the right of Khrushchev in 1963 took power. They removed him and they then went for a stronger, more repressive system, stronger, in other words in arresting people and imposing penalties. It took them 2 or 3 years after Khrushchev was replaced to get some sort of formula, which then for a few years, became a clampdown on the Soviet Union itself. I’m just referring to that period in the late 1970s. And of course, in 1980, you had a mass strike of the mine workers. A very considerable strike that lasted a couple of years. That was an indication that the system was finished, that the system was a non-system and was finished. But the point was that the Soviet Union was unstable from one end to another and that in its actual production, it had difficulty producing decent quality goods at all. That was its nature. So fortunately, from any kind of point of view and well, in terms of how you define it, one can't define it as a worker state. In no sense was it in the interest of the workers and the workers weren't in power. How were the workers in power? There was no election. There was no attempt. The people who were in power were much better paid and received more favors, many more favors than ordinary people. And it's true, they couldn't pass on their position to their children. It was unstable in that sense. But in no sense was that a worker state. Insofar as there was a benefit to the system it was for those in direct power. For the rest of the population it was very difficult.

Someone mentioned the estimated achievements of the USSR. I don't think it's true. What achievements? You’re not going to say it was an achievement in the 1920s, in the 1930s and early 1940s, for those imprisoned and the killing officially of 12 million people – I think Solzhenitsyn talks of 40 million people being affected. I don't know quite the number, but the number of people killed was enormous. It's very hard to talk of the achievements of the USSR under those circumstances. What achievements? In knowing how to kill people quickly? And if you remember, there's a memoir, a book about the killing of the Trotskyists. And I think it was in 1935 they took them out in a horse-drawn carriage, the Trotskyists who were in this prison. It was in the countryside. And they took them, picked them up, put them in the carriage, and then took them to a hole which had been dug, and shot them, put them in the hole, and then the driver drove off. The driver was a Trotskyist and survived. That would have been typical of whatever they did. Except that was an extreme example of the nature of the system itself.

It is very hard to take any positive view of the Soviet Union, given the way there was this mass killing and that continued under Khrushchev. Of course, he brought it out, though not all the detail, but he brought it out. But there continued to be what amounts to an injustice right down to the 1980s. That is the reality. Obviously, it depended where you live. If you were an official living in Moscow, chances are you were safe. What would happen on farms outside? We just don't know. It's hard to talk of the achievements of the Soviet Union. The only sense in which it is an achievement is to say that it's possible to have an entity which is not the market. I say that as well because some people are now arguing that the Soviet Union was also a market. Now that's kind of crazy, but it's the kind of thing the right needs to argue. That's to say, they need to be able to say that the market is here and is eternal. It has existed from the beginning of humanity and will do until its end. That's just nonsense. But that is part of the reason why some people, not usually left wing, do argue in these terms.

Well. I’m much more optimistic, having been so pessimistic, as it were. I’m not a pessimist, in fact. The fact is the Soviet Union came to an end. It's true I expected it to come to an end. And I know I laid no claim to knowing anything about that. It wasn't difficult to see it. And, of course, I wasn't the only one to be able to see that it couldn't possibly last. But that doesn't mean that the world itself isn't changing. And I think in terms of trying to understand the world, we should understand the Soviet Union in the context of the world as a whole, and what now exists in Russia and what could come out of it and what could be learned, what could be used in changing our society into a society for humanity and not a society for some people in humanity. And I think we are on the path, of course, that's the argument from 1917. But I think it's clear that the forces of production today have reached a super level where everyone could have a higher standard of living. That wasn't true 50 years ago. It is true today that it is possible to develop the means of production, the food which we need to eat, et cetera, et cetera, so that everyone has a high standard of living. I think that's clear. So the possibility is there in a way, it didn't seem quite so obvious in 1917, even if, of course, that was the belief of Lenin and Trotsky and others. I think we are at a turning point at the moment. Turning points can last a long time. Of course, it's true that the number of countries where there is any kind of strong, genuine socialist party is very small indeed, it's probably zero. But what's interesting here is that China is beginning to change, though, where it's going to go is not clear. And it's clear that the existing societies can't continue the way that simply they are. And we are in the transition period. One could name the different aspects of transition in this period. In other words, one could name what today is very different from 50 years ago and 100 years ago, and the way the opportunity for everyone to have a high standard of living and a very long life is actually there.

In the case of Eastern Europe, I think we have to look at it in its process since Eastern Europe was freed from the Soviet Union. And what we see is a measure of growth, but it's limited. And they appear to be very discontented at the failure of the West to help them. They’ve been explicit about that. And it's true that Eastern Europe isn't comparable with Western Europe still. And what's happening is that France sends its car parts down to Czech Republic or to Poland, where the cars are assembled. So, and the fact that Poland had more forms of production which have ceased to exist means that in fact, these countries, although the standard of living is rising, they aren't, from a production point of view, less developed than they were or they’ve moved in a particular direction, which isn't the full acquisition of a kind of means of production existing in Britain or France or Germany. And as far as what I have read, articles express that discontent very clearly. Well, one can see the discontent in part in Poland by the nature of the government they’ve got. The far-right government. And I think the election is about to take place and it's very clear that there is a strong opposition to it. But nonetheless, they’ve got a majority. So, the answer to the question you asked has to be complex. They are not going in the direction of socialism. That's clear. On the other hand, they are finding that the capitalism they’re using isn't enough. And the question then is at what point in the future if it is obviously not going to be tomorrow? They will try to find an alternative, a genuine socialist alternative. In other words, for the majority. But at the moment, it's clear that they’re trying to find an alternative. The government before the present government, which had been there for some time, was of course a fairly right-wing government. And it doesn't seem as if it's likely to get a majority. So it's actually in a void, as far as I can see. Poland receives a subsidy from the EU, a very considerable subsidy. I think it's, at least last time I looked, something like 10 billion Euros. So it's being subsidized by the West in order to exist, even in that form. There are, of course, considerable differences, almost a fight between the government of Poland and the rest. Britain and France, et cetera.

So yes, it's not working. In other words, the standard of living has risen. But in terms of development, it has a considerable way to go. As I said, there is an explicit complaint. I don't have it with me, so I can't read it out. But there have been explicit complaints about how Eastern Europe is being treated by Western Europe. And so in one sense, it's not working. And in another sense, of course it is. The standard of living did rise. And of course there isn't the same degree of internal control, although in Hungary, I don't know. Hungary now relates more to Russia. So I think that's a reflection of what I’ve just said. I don't really know where to go to get a rise, a standard living which will rise faster than the one they’ve got. And in other words, it's not likely to last, but it might last a decade or two in Eastern Europe depending, obviously, on the country. The Czech Republic is another issue. Whether they have been different. There's been a different Party in power in various periods of the last 30 years, including, I have to say, one person who is, was, very close to Critique. He was actually a member of the government in Czechoslovakia at one point. And so in some sense on the left. So it depends on each country whether everyone's talking about it. But in general, it is true that these countries are inherently unstable. And while they don't want Stalinism, they want a higher standard of living than they’ve actually got. Well, Poland, of course, is the largest of them having a population of 38 million. So yeah, it's a good question as to, as to where they’re going.

In relation to China. I don't know enough about China to give a genuine answer to that. I think I would have to read a lot more. Well, I’ve never been to China, but my impression is that the Chinese have come to a crossroads where they look very much as if they are moving toward some kind of explicit capitalism in which they introduce perhaps more obvious capitalist forms. But at the moment the majority of the companies are private and most of the production is produced by firms which are private. It's true they’re under control. And it's also true that there's a very, very substantial public sector. And of course, the Communist Party is in control, not the capitalist class. Interestingly, the number of billionaires in China is equal to the number of billionaires in the United States. This simply amounts to a paradox. What on earth is it? Well, obviously they are not Trotskyists and they continue to have a university which teaches Marxism. A Marxist University. And at least one person who has been to Critique conferences is teaching in that. Well, this person belonged to the IMG. And he's teaching in that university in the whatever the title is in China, in Chinese or translated to Chinese. So it's a paradox. I don't know where it's going except that it's quite clearly not going in one direction. The way it has gone in the last 10–20 years is undoubtedly toward a capitalism and a more efficient capitalism. And as the newspapers keep repeating, they are reaching the point of being competitive in total production with the United States.

I’d say China has the second biggest production in the world. That is the case. Well, the only way I can answer it is that I don't know. But the kind of pointers are that firstly, we are living in a transition period and one can talk about the different forms of transition throughout the world. And the Chinese are in a particular form of that transition. Secondly, the shift to capitalism, full capitalism, the abolition of the Communist Party, et cetera, would be a very difficult shift and could easily mean a civil war, terrorism or whatever, which no doubt would restrict people and the fact that it has lasted so long, since 1949, making it move in the direction of lasting longer than the Soviet Union, seems to indicate that it could continue. But as the forces of production are actually developing and with the possibility of the population getting a genuinely higher standard of living, it could move, begin to move in a left-wing direction. What people don't seem to realize is the percentage of the population who are still peasants. China's not comparable with the other countries which we’ve been talking about. The last time I saw it the statistic was something like close to 40% of the population are on farms. Of course, a percentage of the farmers also work in in industry. But the point is, although the exact statistic is not clear, the statistic is high, but the percentage, in other words, who are not in industry but are in farming, or living in farming areas is high. So in that respect, it is difficult to imagine exactly how it would change. What farmers would vote for, I don't know. In that context and in fact, if it were to break up, one would imagine there would be quite a few parties and it would be a scramble.