Beyond the Cold War: Reinventing Socialism in 5 Countries

Although many view socialism through the rigid prism of Soviet orthodoxy, it has always been a work in progress and an evolving, globally adaptable ideology, says Jeremy Friedman, Marvin Bower Associate Professor at Harvard Business School .

In his new book, Ripe for Revolution: Building Socialism in the Third World, Friedman traces the history of socialism over a period of 40 years in five countries: Indonesia, Chile, Tanzania, Angola and Iran. These states did not strictly follow the path of the Soviet bloc, but rather created new socialist models through their own trial and error and, in doing so, demonstrated that socialism can be pragmatic and variable, writes Friedman.

“To understand how socialism is changing and where it is today, and to grasp its evolution and potential horizons, we need to do more than read manifestos,” Friedman says. “We have to deal with history.”

In this excerpt from ripe for revolutionFriedman explains how conventional thinking about socialism has evolved since the Cold War.


Ripe for Revolution: Building Socialism in the Third World

Andrew Binns, Charles O’Reilly and Michael Tushman

The socialist revolution as a global process

During the Cold War, the nature of this international process of building socialism was somewhat obscured by the bipolar structure of geopolitics. As the quest for allies and political support became a zero-sum game in Moscow and Washington, D.C., it became easier to view states as falling on one side or the other of the war divide. cold based on alliances, United Nations or foreign votes. political positions. This geopolitical bipolarity has translated into the realm of domestic politics, particularly in the West, where many left-wing activists have sought to distance themselves from the so-called Cold War adversaries of the free world, especially as the anti-communists sought to use communist ties, real or imagined, to smear and discredit their political opponents.

The result has been a sort of siloization of the left. Communists were separated from other types of Marxists, as well as social democrats, social democrats, new leftists and others. This contemporary compartmentalization, however, was reified by many scholars writing on the left even after the end of the Cold War. This is largely due to the difficulties of accessing archival resources in communist and ex-communist countries, as well as the scale of the project and the languages ​​involved in recreating an integrated history from socialism to that time. Yet, while geopolitical divisions certainly had important effects on the domestic politics of both developed and developing countries, the bipolarity of the Cold War should not prevent us from seeing socialism as a fluid and evolving project. , where doctrinal debates between different types of communist, Marxist and non-Marxist socialists have not always prevented practical collaboration.

“The early 20th century world is as much a creation of the losing side of the Cold War as it is of the winning side.”

As the Cold War itself recedes further into the past, there has been a growing effort to place the struggle between economic systems in broader and more varied contexts. The masterful volume of Odd Arne Westad theCold War begins the story in the 1890s with what he calls “the first world capitalist crisis”, which affected the left by slowing its progress towards democratic power and “produced a revitalized extreme left”. While the rise of industrial capitalism, aided by new technologies of transport and communication at the end of the 19th century, encouraged the rise of high imperialism, the collapse of this imperial system created new demands and new sites of contestation for the systems of sovereignty and property. Adom Getachew has written about “global anti-colonial fabrication,” attempts to reshape international politics in the wake of decolonization in order to transform economic relations as well as political relations. His story begins with the Third International, better known as the Comintern. It is precisely this form of “anti-colonial global fabrication” that has frightened neoliberal “globalists” who, according to Quinn Slobodian, have instead sought to create international institutions that would prevent new holders of sovereignty from interfering with existing forms of property. . Caught in between were the development economists (discussed by David Engerman, Sara Lorenzini, and others) who primarily attempted to achieve economic growth in postcolonial states within the confines of existing international political and economic structures in the middle of the XXth century.

These frameworks have allowed historians to examine previously ignored international relations. James Mark, Artemy Kalinovsky and Steffi Marung have drawn attention to what they call “alternative globalisations”, i.e. programs of globalization and international trade that are not centered on the West or the expansion of capitalism. Some scholars have focused on the foreign policies and international agendas of smaller Second World players like Cuba, Czechoslovakia, and Vietnam. Others have focused on Third World states, making them protagonists in the larger Cold War story and highlighting how domestic politics shaped the roles played by international actors. Even scholars studying the former Soviet Union itself have sought channels of influence and exchange whose impacts have endured beyond bipolar competition. Despite these burgeoning fields of scholarship, however, it is unclear how our overall picture of the 20th and early 21st centuries has actually changed to accommodate these attempts at “alternative globalizations” and “anti-colonial world-making”. “. Are these only vanished worlds that historians recover, a catalog of detours, lost causes and missed opportunities? Engerman wrote of India that with all outside attempts to influence India’s development strategy, their “net effect was nil”. Fredrik Logevall and Daniel Bessner stated unequivocally that “after 1945, the United States was the most powerful nation in the world; when he wanted, he shaped world affairs. So what is the significance of all this search for paths through the 20th century that do not chart the rise of American power and the victory of neoliberalism, that do not lead to the “end of history” and the Washington Consensus? ?

“Ideas and policies born in the West have been transplanted into developing country contexts and often transformed.”

The answer is that while the Soviet Union collapsed, the world of the early 20th century is as much a creation of the losing side of the Cold War as it was of the winning side. Socialism did not die with the USSR. As Slobodian notes, “neoliberal globalism remains just one argument among many.” Understanding the legacies of the Cold War for the post-Cold War world therefore requires us not only to analyze the political and economic competition between countries espousing different ideologies, but to examine what this competition has done to those ideologies themselves. themselves. This requires breaking down the barriers between political and intellectual history and treating policy makers as producers and employers of ideas as well as policies. It has already started on the capitalist side of the conflict. Scholars such as Daniel Ekbladh, Daniel Immerwahr and Amy Ofner have examined how Western – and particularly American – notions of capitalist development have evolved over time through the practice of economic engagement and development assistance in Third World. Ideas and policies originating in the West have been transplanted into developing country contexts and often transformed; and in some cases the lessons learned found their way into Western capitals, or at least changed the way Western countries imagined the path of capitalist development for others.

Socialism was subject to similar processes, and countries that proclaimed themselves socialist (and were committed to the concept of a socialist world revolution) were also experimental, learning and adapting according to circumstances. This meant no more an abandonment of their ideological commitments than for Western countries which sought to promote capitalist development by experimenting with state planning. At the margins, the adaptive approaches of socialists and capitalists mixed the roles of the state and the private sector so that it was not always clear whether an economy was fundamentally socialist or capitalist. Tanzanian ujamaa was a case in point. While the Canadian high commissioner in Dar es Salaam saw it as “an immunization against Maoism or Stalinism”, his British colleague in London saw it as “a very, very nasty weed that will not allow any other plant to thrive in its ratings “. By taking up this process of trial and error in the socialist world, we can examine how socialist models of revolution and development, like capitalist models, have been transformed by the postcolonial encounter. Sebastian Berg, writing on the left in the UK and the US after the fall of the Berlin Wall, notes that even those who thought they had distanced themselves from Soviet communism found their world to be deeply shaken.

In reality, Berg writes, even the New Left had not completely repudiated the Soviet Union, and imagining the future of socialism required accounting for its demise. With socialism now having gained renewed support and vigor since the financial crisis of 2008, it behooves historians to trace the evolution of socialism as an ideology and practice through attempts at its implementation in various circumstances across the world during the Cold War. This book aims to understand the history of socialism as a transnational project.

Excerpt from RIPE FOR REVOLUTION: BUILDING SOCIALISM IN THE THIRD WORLD by JEREMY FRIEDMAN, published by Harvard University Press. Copyright © 2021 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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