This special issue appears on the occasion of the centenary of the Russian October Revolution and deals with the interrelations of two phenomena that are, historically, closely related with this event: socialism and development. The Soviet Union became the first state socialist model of development in existence, but other socialisms, whether by revolution or peaceful transition, followed. As state socialism spread, it also developed and diverged through the creative adaptation to changing local and global circumstances. Showing how people and ideas circulated through East-South and South-South relations, this issue broadens our understanding of the global historical dimension of development as its highlights the variety and interrelations of socialist experiences and analyses forms of both cooperation and competition between socialisms in the wake of decolonisation and the Cold War.
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Socialisms, Development, Revolution, Divergence, Crisis
The October Revolution was pivotal in the globalisation of socialism as a claim-making device. Soviet Africanists interpreting the revolution and its legacy vis-à-vis African dynamics were part of this process. The more the revolution became an event of the distant past, the more it was mobilised as a short hand for post-colonial development and the repositioning of societies in a new global order. This article sheds light on the transfers and circulations of these ideas during the 1950s to the 1970s, and how these impacted on the understandings of socialist development in the Soviet Union. The experiences of Soviet scholars with and in ‘Africa’ played a crucial role for the co-production of such concepts: academic as well as personal frustrations became a driver for change of Soviet Africanists’ theorisations on development and socialism in Africa.
In the aftermath of the 1974 Ethiopian revolution, the government came to adopt an official strand of Marxism that featured a number of characteristics inherited from the late Soviet interpretation of its own experience, and a number of instrumentalist contortions corresponding to the interest of the emergent dominant strata. This generated contradictions between the emancipatory ideational categories employed and the social-material characteristics of the actual process of attempted development. Nowhere were these contradictions greater than in the manufacturing sector, where exhortations and demands for sacrifice on the part of the working class were only matched by the – increasingly farcical – rhetorical place of prominence of that class. By focussing on the rhetorical aims, the practical means, and the achievements recorded in this sector, this article aims to analyse the concrete manner in which these contradictions manifested themselves. The findings indicate that the effort to construct and develop a socialist economy – narrowly defined as such in terms of the judicial form of ownership – failed on a number of levels. This failure is traced back to the nature of power relations in ‘Socialist Ethiopia’, and draws attention to the manner in which the ideology of ‘state socialism’, which shifts attention from the aim of revolutionising productive relations to the development of productive forces under state ownership, has generally been used to legitimise the rule of bureaucratic categories and to conceal exploitative relations prevailing under such rule. In this, the article draws on Marxist theorisation and critique of that ideology.
Based essentially on archive-material from the GDR – and some from Cuba – this contribution demonstrates how the interactions between the German Democratic Republic and Cuba were projected into a multilateral cooperation in Africa in the framework of the socialist world system. The circulation of material and personal resources – advisors, experts, solidarity workers of European socialist countries in Cuba, Cuban workers in Europe, Cuban Internacionalistas in Africa, the thousands of students from Africa at the Isla de la Juventud in Cuba – constituted spheres of international connectivity within the socialist world system in the era of its expansion to the three continents Asia, Africa and Latin America. In this period of alternative ‘globalization’ from the mid-1970s to 1990, Cuba, as a member of the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA/COMECON), established itself as a trans-continental hub between the European centre of that system and its African periphery. The contribution concludes by summing up elements of a ‘Cuban cycle’ of ‘anti-imperialist’ developmental socialism as the last of the long reverberations of the October Revolution.
From Countryside to Factory: Industrialisation, Social Mobility, and Neoliberalism in Soviet Central Asia and Mexico
This article traces the rise and decline of state-led industrialisation as a tool of social mobility in the second half of the twentieth century. It examines ideas of transforming primarily agrarian societies into industrial states in the USSR and developing countries, and then considers how these ideas were applied in two cases: Mexico and Soviet Central Asia. In both cases, state-led industrialisation achieved some important social goals, but ultimately proved disappointing and was deemphasized in the 1980s. Politicians and planners increasingly emphasised individual entrepreneurship and a more limited role for the state as a path to achieving greater social mobility. The article argues that while external ideological and economic factors were important in both cases, attention must also be paid to the way scholars and planners reflected on the shortcomings of the industrialisation programme conceived in the post-war decades.