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Perestroika: the need for class analysis.

Perry Cartwright is a long-time activist in the labaor, press, civil rights, and civil liberties movements

A class analysis of perestroika and glasnost can no longer be postponed if Marxism is to remain a credible method of explaining historic developments.

As I see it, openness and restructuring are mandatory steps for a socioeconomic class. The Societ managerial class, in order to preserve its rule, is making concessions which no one thought possible. To understand these changes we must first of all understand that the Soviet-bloc countries are not egalitarian "socialist" societies in the classic Marxist tradition. They are class societies dominated by the "nomenklatura." This group of politicians, military officials, and industrial managers of publicly owned property have controlled Soviet society since at least the time of Stalin.

The managerial class now finds itself in a crises comparable to that faced by the U.S. capitalist class in 1932. The old methods just won't work anymore. And just as the smarter, more realistic, Rooseveltian wing of the capitalist class saw that they must make concessions in order to save their system, so the smarter, more realistic, Gorbachev wing of the managerial class in the USSR sees that they must replace social arrangements that time has made unworkable. Gorbachev, is not leading a capitalist counter-revolution any more than Roosevelt was trying to lead a socialist revolution. Gorbachev wants to rationalize his publicly owned property system by introducing certain appropriate market features, just as Roosevelt saw the need to borrow certain socialist features in order to save an imperiled capitalism.

The essential feature of perestroika is permitting individual factories and farms to make production decisions based on consumer demand. This is not incompatible with a publicly owned economy. Those managers who succeed will prosper. Those who fail will go down, also not incompatible with public property relations. The struugle now going on within the managerial class is between those who think they will like the new arrangement and those who prefer the security of the old.

The other essential feature of perestroika is permitting open and legal small-scale economic activities by workers and farmers. This solves several problems. First, it gains millions of political allies within the working class for the perestroika wing of the managerial class. More importantly, it fills the need for goods and services not supplied by a ponderous large-scale economic plan. Planned and publicly owned economies have proven to be efficient in such largescale projects as space exploration, nuclear research, setting up basic industries in backward countries, military matters, education, health care, and social security systems. Planned economies have proven less efficient in consumer goods production and distribution.

Glasnost is essential to the whole process. The perestroika managers need openess and emocracy in order to explain and popularize these changes in the economy. Just as the New Dealers had to legalize unions, oppose the poll tax, set up Social Security, gring in minorities, and otherwise go along with a democratic upsurge in order to prevail over Hooverism, so the Gorbachev forces realize that they must permit a flowering of democracy in order to reform and save their system.

Should those of us in capitalist countries who favor a just and democratic society support glasnost and perestroika? Obviously. Should we rethink some of our most cherished ideas about social evolution? Obviously. Should we support Monthly Review, the best voice in America for this rethinking? Obviously.
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Author:Cartwright, Perry
Publication:Monthly Review
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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