The centre of the crisis is the Soviet Union itself; and although it has not yet reached there the same degree of maturity as for example in the GDR and Czechoslovakia, the ground is already shaking at the edges. Nothing that the Soviet leaders do to escape its consequences, on the basis of the existing conditions, can prevent its eruption. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in fact accelerated mental polarization in the other countries of the bloc. It is precisely the general, comprehensive and fundamental character of the crisis, precisely the fact that its focus lies in the Soviet Union, that enables the perspectives for a movement of renewal and the tasks of such a movement to appear in a quite different and more hopeful light. The discussions of Soviet economists and sociologists are bearing ever closer towards the decisive points, and it is not accidental that under the surface the arguments of the early 1920s are again being revived. The Soviet Union must reform itself, to keep pace internally with the demands of the masses, and to maintain its international position. The obsolete forces will then be prevented from putting their particular caste interests to the fore. The first requirement is to win the space for public discussion of the ‘burning questions of our movement’.
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We cannot undertake to deal in detail with all these problems in one single text, even if on some of them there is already an immense amount of literature, which is still deliberately withheld from the public in our countries and hence cannot even be critically examined. What is possible, however, even without making any claims to monographic completeness, is to reach a general position on this complex of questions. We can undertake to present the preliminary result attained in an outline form of the kind given in Marx’s own Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. [ . . . ]
The hour of theory and history must begin. The hour of politics will follow sooner or later.
The first part of the book is concerned with the phenomenon of the non-capitalist road to industrial society.
Our actually existing socialism is a fundamentally different social organization from that outlined in Marx’s socialist theory. This practice may be compared with the theory, but it should not be measured by it. It must be explained in terms of its own laws. All theories of deformation, however, from Khrushchev to Garaudy, lead away from this task. My own analysis leads to a general concept of the ‘non-capitalist road’ which includes most of the nominally socialist countries, and to the search for the origin of this non-capitalist road in the legacy of the so-called Asiatic mode of production. This is the basis for the subsequent discussion of Russia’s progress from agricultural to industrial despotism, and the fate of the Bolshevik party in the process. We must try and do justice to the historical character of the Stalinist structure of domination. The political history of the Soviet Union is not one of abandonment of the ‘subjective factor’, but rather of its transformation, by the task that it had to undertake of industrializing Russia. It is the new tasks of today that demonstrate the anachronistic character of the old-style party, and not just certain principles of political morality.