What happened to the USSR?

BY: Dee Miles, Emile Schepers, Beth Edelman And Craig Gaulzetti| November 16, 2017
What happened to the USSR?
QAs the Communist Party USA is committed to a Marxist perspective, I wonder how it interprets the demise of the USSR and associated socialist states of Eastern Europe. My understanding is that Marxism is built upon “scientific materialism” which postulates historical development. Thus, does the demise of the USSR demonstrate a misapplication of Marxism or a failure of theory. Considerable expense (both material and human) were invested in creating a Marxist state by the USSR. If Communism has a future, how is this apparent failure to be understood?
AThe reasons for the end of Soviet socialism are difficult to address, especially from the the U.S. perspective.  Even the Communist Parties of the former Soviet bloc countries have differing opinions.  Among the factors to consider are a lack of information technology to facilitate central planning, increasing distance between Party leadership and the working class, and underestimation of the subjective factor—that is, a failure to take into account the desires and aspirations of the masses in building socialism.  Of course, all of these things occurred within the context of a sustained campaign of sabotage and economic war by the capitalist powers, with the United States at their head.

But Marxism is a science, so we should think about what we mean by failure in a scientific context.  The gap between theory and practice is part of any applied scientific activity: theory is never a perfect reflection of reality and, in the context of practice, new conditions and confounding variables arise.  Just as capitalism didn’t appear as a world system overnight, a socialist world will require many experiments, many revolutions, and (as Lenin insisted) much learning from mistakes.  Like in a laboratory context, understanding of why an experiment did not yield the expected results is the first step to designing a better trial the next time around.  In this sense, the Soviet Union wasn’t a failure. Even leaving aside the massive boost it gave to labor and national liberation movements around the world, it was an enormous step forward in our understanding of revolution and socialist construction.

As we celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the October Socialist Revolution and the birth of the world’s first socialist superpower, perhaps the best thing we can do is to devote ourselves seriously to figuring out what is needed here and now to unite the working class around a vision of transformative change. We know capitalism can be beaten. The time is now!

Image: in Moscow, a monument to Karl Marx, founder (with Friedrich Engels) of scientific socialism.  Image from Wikimedia Commons.


    Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.


    Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, Craig Gaulzetti is active in progressive causes and has worked in bicycle manufacturing for most of his adult life.  He enjoys reading, writing, and working with others to make the world a better place for working people and their families.  Craig joined the Communist Party in 1995 and has been active in the San Diego club since moving to Southern California in 2015.

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer