Over the last several months. Social Scientist has been carrying a series of articles analysing what went wrong in the erstwhile socialist countries. Professor Irfan Habib's lead article in the present number, which represents the text of the P.C. Joshi Memorial Lecture for 1993 delivered by him, belongs to this series. This article is notable as much for its theoretical moorings, as for the breadth of its scope: it covers a vast range of issues, from the question of contradictions in a socialist society, to the role of socialist democracy, to technical questions of the political economy of socialism.
Habib draws attention to three crucial contradictions in a socialist society: between the proletariat and the State, between mental and manual labour, and between town and country. Given the existence of a privileged stratum which constitutes a proto-bourgeois element, these contradictions can take on the character of 'separate or multi-faceted class-struggles'. The ideological disarming of the proletariat, as well as its growing economic 'alienation', as a result of the economic atrophy arising due to bureaucratisation, can create conditions where the class-offensive of the proto-bourgeois elements can lead to a restoration of capitalism.
Habib's emphasis on the implications of bureaucratisation for the collapse of socialism, and his stress on the need for socialist democracy, as distinct from a centralised one-party dictatorship, as an integral part of the socialist project, would be accepted by most socialists today, no matter what reservations they had on this score some years ago. On the analysis of the collapse of socialism, however, certain unanswered questions still remain. First, in what discernible sense did the extant socialist economies experience an economic crisis, other than what can be deduced post'facto from their collapse? If the economic alienation of the workers was a consequence of the economic atrophy of these societies, then this atrophy was in comparison to wh^t: the past performance of these very economies, or the expectations of these workrs, or the so-called 'success' of capitalism? Any one of these would raise a host of further questions. And the last of these, which is subscribed to by many commentators, raises in particular the question: can we talk of the dynamics of the extant socialist economies without simultaneously
Social Scientist, Vol. 21, Nos. 5-6, May-June, 1993