Revolution Manifesto Class 5: From the Paris Commune to the Soviet Union

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Revolution Manifesto Class 5: From the Paris Commune to the Soviet Union


Introduction:

The purpose of this class is to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the withering away of the state as it relates to economics and the mode of production. The class will also focus on the historical experience of the Soviet Union to investigate why the workers’ state was not able to wither away.

Learning objectives and outcomes:

At the end of class 5, comrades will:

  • Possess a deeper materialist understanding of the withering away of the state.
  • Grasp the significance of the Soviet Union and the historical contours that shaped it.
  • Be able to defend the existence of the Soviet state in particular—and workers’ states in general—from opportunist and anti-communist arguments.
  • This insight is important for countering the opportunist arguments accusing all

Readings:

  • The Soviet Union: Why the Workers’ State Could Not Wither Away, by Richard Becker (pp. 57-69)
  • Addendum: Lenin, the Early Soviet Union and the Commune-Style State, by E.H. Carr (pp. 70-77)
  • Chapter 5: The Economic Basis of the Withering Away of the State (pp. 173-190)

Discussion questions:

For “The Soviet Union: Why the Workers’ State Could Not Wither Away” and “Addendum: Lenin, the Early Soviet Union and the Commune-Style State:”

  • How did Lenin envision the withering away of the Soviet state?
  • Why did this not come to pass? What evidence does Becker point to in explaining this?
  • How and why did the class struggle rage on within the Soviet Union, even though the working class was the ruling class?
  • What role did the Soviet Union’s relative isolation play in the course of its development?
  • Why was capitalism temporarily and partially restored?
  • What do you think E.H. Carr’s addendum adds to the discussion?
  • Does Carr think that the historical experience of the Soviet Union disproved or modified Lenin’s theory of the state? Why or why not?
  • What other misconceptions about the Soviet Union have you heard? Based on this reading, how might you respond to them?

For “Chapter 5: The Economic Basis of the Withering Away of the State:”

  • In what ways was Marx’s theory a theory of development? Why is this important?
  • What kinds of changes took place in Marx’s understanding of the state?
  • How should we understand the transition from capitalism to communism?
  • What are the two stages of communism, and what are the differences between them?
  • Toward the end of the chapter, Lenin talks about the change of “quantity into quality.” What does this phrase mean, and what does it have to do with the transition to communism?

Music for discussion:

Listen to “27 Million” by Marcel Cartier. As you listen, think about how Cartier’s song relates to the reading from Becker. What misconceptions about the Soviet Union does Cartier address? Is the historical context Cartier offers helpful for understanding the Soviet Union?

Engaging activity:

Comparing the Paris Commune to the Soviet Union

  • This is a small group activity (groups of 2-5 people)
  • Within your small group discuss the Soviet Union and the Paris Commune. What similarities existed? What differences? What lessons did Lenin, Marx, and Engels learn from the Paris Commune? Do you think those lessons were correct? How were those lessons applied throughout the existence of the Soviet Union?
  • Reconvene as a class and have small groups report out. Assign a scribe to write or type a list of what the groups came up with.

Supplementary video:

The Paris Commune, TeleSUR English

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