On the non-existence of the Actually Existing
It's always nice to see Trotskyist orthodoxies being poked around a bit, just to remind that the tradition isn't totally moribund. Hence The Tomb on substitutionism in the anti-Stalinist left, and the former habit of left intellectuals to apologise for the Eastern Bloc 'actually existing socialist' states. I must admit to being horribly conflicted on this question, my position probably resembling some melange of Leninism at its most Statist and Luxemburgism at its most spontaneity-eulogising. I usually find myself being equally swayed by the Workers' Opposition's critique of nascent substitutionism and Lenin's quasi-Taylorism, and while obviously one should ridicule the claims to socialism of, eg the former German Democratic Republic, this is ususally balanced out by a fascination with the material culture and political morality of the Soviet Bloc, and the various and frequently non-cynical attempts to build a non-capitalist culture in these states.*
Also, I'm not sure how appropriate the notion of substitutionism necessarily is in the case of most former Bloc states. Moshe Lewin's The Soviet Century makes the intriguing argument that, rather than the process being the accepted line of Party substitutes for Class, then merges with State, instead the State Apparatus simply occludes the Party and uses it as proof of its revolutionary continuity and as a clapping machine, while real power lies in the institutions and the nomenklatura. Hence the attempts to salvage the system from the Left Opposition onwards always involved reinvigorating the Party- though of course usually stopping short from advocating real Proletarian Democracy. Lewin's position that the USSR was neither socialist nor, in the Cliffite sense 'State Capitalist' seems apposite as well. But the main, and admittedly rather simplistic, contention I would make though is that any experiments in non-laissez faire always make the possibility of capitalism's end conceivable. Whether its Swedish social democracy or Yugoslav self-management or even to a certain degree the shabby excuse for socialism of the Eastern Bloc, simply the fact that these states managed to achieve something, didn't spontaneously combust simply by abandoning the free market, marks them out as what Jameson (on Cuba) has called a kind of 'liberated territory', irrespective of their petty failures and brutalities. To hold this up as a model is of course another thing altogether...
* Despite considering myself to be a socialist first and an aesthete second, there is a constant temptation to read a society via its artefacts. This has obvious pitfalls, but I don't think it always serves as mere window dressing. The clunky attempts at socialist culture like the mosaic on the East Berlin Haus des Lehrers (where these pics are from) have a certain surplus, speak of what the 'socialist' states were themselves unable to achieve.