August 19, 2021
From Socialist World
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August 1991 coup – outside the White House Moscow (Photo: Creative Commons)

“1991 marked a turning point…We have entered a more disturbed period in world history, marked by sharper inter-imperialist rivalries and a deepening capitalist crisis.” (The Collapse of Stalinism)

In 1991, the world watched as the former Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union crumbled. The destabilising effects of the collapse of these bureaucratic dictatorships and capitalist restoration in these countries are still felt today.

In contrast to the euphoria of the bourgeoisie at the time, and the demoralisation of many on the left, the analysis of the Committee for a Workers’ International stands the test of time.

Revolution and Counter-revolution in the Soviet Union and The Collapse of Stalinism explain developments from a Marxist perspective and anticipate in a general way the subsequent events.

These documents were written during an intense debate within the CWI and contrast with the documents of a minority within the CWI at the time (The development of a “majority” and “minority” within the CWI during 1991 is explained in the documents on the ‘Open Turn‘ debate on Marxist.net),

Below, we republish, in full, the September 1991 document, Revolution And Counter-Revolution In The Soviet Union. After a lengthy delay, the “Minority” produced “The Truth about the Coup” in reply (see http://www.marxist.net/stalinism/coup/index.html).

Despite the departure of the minority from the CWI in early 1992, the Committee for a Workers’ International confidently put the discussion documents of our former opponents on  Marxist.net, so that readers can make up their own minds about the claims and counter-claims.

socialistworld.net

Revolution And Counter-Revolution In The Soviet Union

1. The recent upheavals in the Soviet Union represent a turning point in world events. While this process began some years ago, the crushing blow suffered by the “old guard” signifies the collapse of Stalinism in the USSR. It will have enormous repercussions internationally, even greater than those which followed the collapse of the proletarian Bonapartist regimes in Eastern Europe. Marxists must assess what the prospects are now for the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe where this process was already underway. We must assess what this means for the world balance of forces, the position of Imperialism, and the prospects for the remaining proletarian Bonapartist regimes. It is also necessary to gauge the effect of these events on the consciousness of the working class internationally.

2. A coup which attempted to prevent the break up of the Soviet Union and re-establish the power of the central authorities, the federal bureaucracy and the military high command, has achieved the opposite. There has been a decisive shift in the balance of power against the centre and in favour of the republics, especially the mighty Russian republic under Yeltsin. In the post-coup division of spoils, Yeltsin has enormously extended his powers, consolidating his control over the economy and state apparatus in the Russian federation.

3. Gorbachev survives but presides over a much-weakened centre. The Russian federation initially took control of the central bank, the economics ministry and most of the functions of the central apparatus, as well as the KGB and interior ministry. The horrified reaction of the other republics and world capitalism however, have forced Yeltsin to retreat from this position, at least for the time being.

4. The coup and its defeat enormously accelerated the tendencies towards break up of the Union. Ten republics formally declared independence with the Baltic states actually seceding from the Union. But the horrific consequences – economic collapse and possible civil war – have forced the majority of the governments in the republics to draw back from this.

5. As we have explained before, the bureaucracy’s criminal mismanagement of the planned economy has plunged Soviet society into an unprecedented economic and political crisis. Economic stagnation and actual decline throughout the 1980s, at a time of weak economic recovery for world capitalism, has generated enormous illusions in capitalism – as the “only alternative” to Stalinist dictatorship – even among the working class.

6. Dictatorship inevitably throws back the consciousness of the mass of the working class. In the past, because of the proletariat’s overwhelming attachment to the economic foundations of the workers’ state, Stalinism defended the planned economy though with its own bureaucratic methods. Despite this relatively progressive historical role of the Soviet bureaucracy, its rule represented one of the most vile dictatorships seen in history. Workers’ hatred of Stalinism was reinforced by the crushing of the movements in Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968 and Poland in 1956, 1971 and 1981. These factors and the absence, over several decades, of a revolutionary alternative in any of the countries of Eastern Europe has enormously complicated the processes of revolution and counter-revolution in the region.

7. We have seen important features of a revolutionary struggle by the working class in Romania, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. In the Soviet Union we have seen major strikes for the first time in seven decades, such as the miners’ strike and the general strike movement in Byelorussia which in its initial stages was directed against the privileges of the bureaucracy. But because of the lack of a revolutionary alternative the hatred of Stalinism has, for the time being, shifted in the direction of counter-revolution and the victory of the pro-capitalist elements of the old bureaucracy.

8. We see these contradictions in a particularly sharp form in the recent events in the Soviet Union. In assessing the outcome of the coup, Marxists recognise both the positive aspects – the beginnings of a mass movement of the working class against an attempt to restore authoritarian rule – and also the negative aspects. In the absence of independent workers’ organisations with a revolutionary programme and leadership and because of the illusions in the market, the victory of the workers and youth over the coup has resulted in an enormous strengthening of the openly pro-capitalist wing of the bureaucracy. In the short term, the moves towards capitalism will inevitably gather speed. We must recognise this as an important defeat.

9. Pro-bourgeois governments, similar in character to those in Eastern Europe, now exist in Russia and most of the republics. Since the coup Gorbachev has shifted even further into the capitalist camp and his new central administration will undoubtedly take the same form. As we have explained, this does not represent the final triumph of capitalist counter-revolution. These are extremely unstable, transitional regimes -bourgeois regimes in the process of formation. Whether this process is completed depends upon the living struggle over the next period.

10. Yeltsin’s victory represents a bourgeois political counter-revolution in the Soviet Union. However, the counter-revolution has yet to consolidate itself by securing a decisive change in the economic foundations of the Soviet Union. To accomplish the social counter-revolution, it must overcome the enormous resistance of the Soviet workers. While among big sections Yeltsin is regarded as a hero, he is also distrusted and feared by a big layer of workers. For them, relief at the defeat of the coup has given way to enormous foreboding about the consequences of the pro-market policies of Yeltsin and Gorbachev.

11. “Decommunisation” is proceeding rapidly. The Communist Party is now officially suspended in the land of the October Revolution, something that did not happen even in Romania after the fall of Ceaucescu. This move may be seen by many workers as a blow against the bureaucracy. But everywhere the bureaucracy is fragmenting and abandoning the party for openly bourgeois or nationalist groupings in order to maintain its position. The dissolution of the CP met with hardly any protests from within the ruling layers of the bureaucracy. This is an indication of the decisive shift which has taken place within the bureaucracy, which the coup’s defeat has accelerated.

12. Trotsky raised the call to “drive the bureaucracy and the new aristocracy out of the Soviets”. But today’s attack on the party begs the question: who is doing it and why? Despite the thoroughly bureaucratised nature of the CPSU which was not a workers’ party, the main aim of the ban is to eliminate a possible future outlet for opposition to restoration. While Yeltsin and the pro-capitalists also aim to curb the influence of the old-guard Stalinists, they are mainly concerned that the party could be an obstacle to their attempts to dismantle state ownership.

13. Likewise, there are two sides to the decree banning factory cells. These organisations were an agency of the bureaucracy and the factory management in the past. Many workers will welcome the ban. But we must warn workers that the ban can be used against their own efforts to organise in the workplaces. The restorationists have imposed the ban to facilitate the transition to private ownership by breaking any pockets of resistance among the old bureaucracy in industry. But they also fear that under certain conditions these organisations could become a rallying point for workers’ opposition to redundancies, privatisation etc., just as in Poland the old official trade union OPZZ has partly developed in this way. Marxists demand the right of workers to organise in the workplaces, which includes the right of genuine workers’ parties to form cells.

14. Again we are opposed to the methods and aims involved in the seizure of party property, publications and assets. Workers stand to gain nothing if these assets are swallowed up by the “democratic” i.e. pro-capitalist groupings or sold to the aspiring bourgeois. The party accumulated its enormous resources by syphoning off a share of the wealth created by workers. Marxists demand that these assets are distributed among genuine trade unions and genuine workers’ organisations. We call for workers’ control and management, and democratic access to the old party media currently being turned into mouthpieces for the bourgeois.

15. The victorious pro-capitalist camp have unleashed a ferocious ideological offensive against the ideas of the October Revolution and the planned economy. The demolition of statues of revolutionary leaders like Lenin, Sverdlov and Dzerzinsky is not an attempt to bury the crude icons of Stalinism to which Lenin was always opposed, but an attempt to bury the ideas on which the Soviet state was founded. Among an important layer of workers the destruction of the statues is viewed with disgust. While such measures can gain an echo among broad layers opposed to Stalinism, the attempts to tear down state ownership and liquidate whole sections of industry will produce an entirely different response.

16. The bourgeois in the West have seized on these events to intensify their ideological offensive against the ideas of socialism. Echoed by the labour movement leadership, they are lauding the final death of ‘communism’ and the planned economy. The British Independent (24.8.91.) carried the headline: “Communist rule began in 1917 -Gorbachev ended it yesterday!” Internationally our tendency now stands alone, implacable in defence of the planned economy and against this tidal wave of bourgeois propaganda.

17. Without blinding ourselves to the complexities and even difficulties in the situation, we must also recognise the positive features of the coup’s downfall. Above all, the coup attempt was smashed by the beginnings of a movement of the working class and the youth – the biggest movement since 1917. Faced with a determined movement on the streets, the army and the KGB – already riven with internal divisions -were paralysed. This was a victory over the biggest military machine and the biggest state security organisation (the KGB alone has over 1 million operatives) in the world. This has had an enormous effect on the consciousness and confidence of the working class, especially those sections who participated.

18. While the general strike movement only developed partially, this is mainly because the coup collapsed within three days. The struggle at the giant Kirov factory in Leningrad and other factories shows how the movement would have developed. The workers threatened to replace the management unless they refused to support the coup. The longer the struggle continued, the greater likelihood that workers’ own demands would push to the fore. Had the Emergency committee attempted to hold on for longer, and especially if it had succeeded in getting a section of the state apparatus to open fire on the demonstrators, they would have undoubtedly faced a growing general strike and a possible armed uprising as in Romania.

19. A similar process, we pointed out, would have occurred had the demonstrations in Leipzig been fired upon at the beginning of the movement in East Germany. It has been revealed that, as in Leipzig, plans were made to fire on the crowds. Helicopter gunships were to be deployed in Moscow until the airforce warned the coup leaders that they would use aircraft against the helicopters. The determination to stand and fight was shown by the presence of groups of armed Afghan veterans in the demonstrations. Had the coup lasted longer, the strike movement would have developed and could have assumed massive proportions. It did not fully develop precisely because in the workers’ eyes this was unnecessary, given the collapse of the coup.

20. As it was, several major industrial centres supported the strike. The Vorkuta and Kuzbass miners came out. In the Kuzbass the strike spread to other industries. In Leningrad 20 factories, including the massive Kirovsky (40,000 workers), struck on Tuesday 20 August. There were partial strikes in many Leningrad factories, with spontaneous walkouts as workers went to the squares where meetings were taking place and returned to their workplaces to inform others of the latest developments. Strikes were reported in Sverdlovsk and other industrial centres in the Urals.

21. At first workers were stunned and surprised by the news. A section even initially accepted the coup. But as they realised its full significance – that it signalled the return of the old guard – their resistance stiffened. At least half a million demonstrated in Leningrad on the place square. In Moscow 150,000 defended the Russian parliament building on the decisive night of August 20th, forcing the tanks to retreat. Barricades were erected and stocks of petrol bombs were built up in anticipation of the attack. The participation of the youth, for the first time in the events of recent years, was a critical factor. Their determination to confront the military had a decisive effect on the mood of other layers of the working class.

22. The beginnings of the organisation of armed workers’ defence is extremely significant for the future. Armed youths were present in the Moscow demonstration that confronted the tanks. Workers’ defence squads were set up in some Leningrad factories. Armed workers guarded the Marin-sky Palace (Leningrad) alongside police. Both Yeltsin and Sobchak were compelled, out of fear of the personal consequences of defeat, to call for “a peoples’ defence force”. However, this was no more than a verbal summons to arms which they took no steps to organise. Yeltsin restricted the distribution of arms at the Russian Parliament building to the deputies gathered inside. This showed his fear of arming the workers.

23. Therefore as in Eastern Europe we had important elements of a revolutionary struggle by the working class while the general direction of events, given the absence of a revolutionary leadership, is clearly counter-revolutionary. These processes were telescoped into a much shorter time span in the Soviet Union. However, workers’ awareness that a mass movement defeated the coup has ominous implications for the pro-capitalist camp in their push towards the market. At a certain stage, they will inevitably meet fierce resistance from the working class as they attempt to implement their programme of mass sackings, privatization and price rises.

Why the coup failed

24. These dramatic events are a confirmation of our perspectives. Earlier this year, the British paper argued:

“Gorbachev has himself initiated a kind of creeping coup in order to prevent an open coup by some military Bonaparte. This may not save Gorbachev, however, who could be toppled by an open military coup in the next period.”

The same article continued:

“Despite a widespread disillusionment throughout the Soviet Union in the present chaotic situation, any attempt to re-establish centralised Stalinist control will meet with resistance. This could come, not just from the nationalities who face repression, but from the mighty Soviet working class”. (18.1.91.)

25. Back in July 1989 we warned:

“A big section would like to remove him (Gorbachev) now. They blame him for opening the floodgates, typified by the movement that has begun in Siberia. It is even possible that a section have now considered his removal. After all, he is not as popular as he was before among sections of the population at large. However, if the conservative wing of the bureaucracy prematurely moves to remove Gorbachev this would ignite an explosion.” (WIN No. 4, p 8-9)

26. The failure of the coup within just 56 hours showed that the conditions did not exist at that stage for the imposition of a new open military dictatorship. The working class of Russia and the republics are not sufficiently disillusioned with “democracy” to tolerate a return to the iron heel.

27. Events quickly confirmed that the old guard behind the coup lacked any social reserves of support. They were unable to mobilise any demonstrations behind the coup. Even the CP leadership was bypassed during the coup preparations because a majority was expected to oppose it. When their isolation became clear, they could not even find loyal troops to implement their orders. The coup leaders literally turned out to be “generals without an army”.

28. The coup leaders understood the deep hostility of the population towards Gorbachev whose approval rating slumped to 14 per cent before the coup. But they didn’t appreciate the even greater hostility that exists towards the “old guard”. They miscalculated that this disillusionment with Gorbachev and the chaotic economic situation, along with promises of wage rises and a price freeze, would provide a base of support for the coup.

29. Despite its pro-capitalist economic programme, the coup was perceived as a Stalinist coup by the mass of the population. Workers opposed the coup because they understood that the limited democratic rights of the last five years – to organise, to strike, to demonstrate, publish journals etc. – were threatened. For the majority of workers it raised the prospect of a return to the repression of the Brezhnev era. It was to defend the fragile shoots of democratic rights, and not at all to defend Gorbachev, that the workers fought.

30. In fact it is almost ruled out that the coup, had it consolidated itself, could have taken society back to the repression of the Brezhnev era. There has been a transformation in the outlook of the working class since the 1960s and 70s when fear of the regime, at a time when the economy was still advancing, held the workers in a state of inertia. Even with brutal repression the bureaucracy would not be able to instill the same fear in the minds of the masses. Because of this, and their inability to overcome the catastrophic economic crisis, this would have been a weak and unstable regime.

31. Given the opportunity, the junta were prepared to use force to crush the opposition. Their first proclamation banned strikes, demonstrations and political parties. A quarter of a million sets of handcuffs were ordered in preparation. Sweeping arrests were planned. It was not an oversight that Yeltsin remained at liberty. His arrest had been ordered, but the special KGB squad which was sent to capture him refused to carry out their orders. In fact, such were the splits at the very top, Yeltsin and Popov were actually warned of the coup by leading figures in the Moscow KGB. Similar difficulties confronted the coup leaders at every step.

32. These splits within the state apparatus show that Stalinism in the USSR has rotted to its very foundations. In the past, under the authoritarian boot of Stalin, the ruling layers of the bureaucracy were bound together by a monolithic discipline. This situation has gone forever. The bureaucracy today is scattering into rival factions on a national, regional and even municipal basis, as well as on political lines.

33. Behind this process is their catastrophic undermining of the planned economy. Recent years have witnessed a disintegration of planning. Rival sections of the managerial bureaucracy are locked in struggle, industry against industry, republic against republic, and even city against city, for scarce resources. Barter agreements between different sections of the economy, bypassing and rendering central planning impossible, have become commonplace. While planning has broken down, no alternative mechanism has been created to replace it.

34. The splits within the army and the KGB in the face of growing mass opposition eventually paralysed the coup. The army, navy and airforce in Leningrad backed Mayor Sobchak and Yeltsin against the coup. There was opposition to the coup from other sections of the armed forces. Others adopted a wait-and-see attitude, with no enthusiasm for either side in the conflict.

35. Above all, the generals were haunted by the prospect of a Romanian situation developing. This was a real possibility, as the appearance of groups of armed workers indicates. The open defiance of the workers and youth, especially in the struggle for Moscow, had a decisive effect on the rank and file soldiers and compelled the majority of the generals to back off.

The Marxists’ Attitude to the Coup

36. From its earliest pronouncements it was clear that the junta, though drawn from the old guard, was not seeking to restore a Stalinist regime on the old model based on the planned economy. There was no mention of “the defence of socialism” or the Stalinist jargon of the past. On the contrary, they made clear their support for continuing the market reforms, albeit at a more controlled pace.

37. They stated that they were for “developing the mixed character of the national economy, we will also support private enterprise, granting it the necessary opportunities for developing production and the sphere of services.” During this conflict, therefore, neither of the opposing camps was acting to defend the planned economy.

38. Yeltsin’s “liberal” camp, based on the bureaucracy of the Russian republic and the city administrations in Leningrad and Moscow, favour a rapid shift to capitalism and, in order to bolster the relative position of the Russian federation over the centre and other republics, favour a looser Union. The other camp, drawn from the central Union bureaucracy, the army and KGB chiefs, acted to restore “order” and prevent what they saw as the imminent break up of the Union, with the signing of the now defunct new Union treaty. This, and not a fundamental disagreement over economic policy, was their primary consideration.

39. The coup leaders sought to reimpose an open dictatorship in order to carry through the transition to capitalism. All wings of the bureaucracy are terrified of the opposition of the working class. It is possible that, in an effort to stabilise itself, this regime might have taken partial steps to recentralise control of the economy. Temporarily, the moves towards capitalism may have stalled or slowed down. But inevitably, after a possible brief interregnum, they would have continued in the direction of capitalism.

40. In China, the Stalinist wing purged Zhao Ziyang and the open pro-capitalist wing after the massacre in Tiananmen Square. For a period they reasserted greater central control over the economy and the provinces and took emergency measures to squeeze credit and bring down inflation. But after this short period of re- adjustment, Li Peng and the hardliners have adopted pro-capitalist policies which are not fundamentally different from Zhao’s. The Chinese bureaucracy succeeded in crushing the 1989 movement because the vast peasantry (80 per cent of the population) and continued strong economic growth mean that the regime still has substantial reserves of support in society. This is a decisive difference with the situation in the Soviet Union.

41. Given that the defeat of the coup has undoubtedly accelerated the processes towards capitalist restoration, should the Marxists have given critical support to the coup? Trotsky after all raised the possibility in 1938 that if the bourgeois restorationist wing

“should attempt the conquest of power, the ‘faction of Reiss’ (Trotskyists) inevitably would align itself on the opposite side of the barricades. Although it would find itself temporarily the ally of Stalin, it would nevertheless defend not the Bonapartist clique but the social base of the USSR, ie. the property wrenched away from the capitalists and transformed into state property…

42. “Although it is thus impermissible to deny in advance the possibility, in strictly defined instances, of a ‘united front’ with the Thermidorian section of the bureaucracy against open attack by capitalist counter-revolution, the chief political task in the USSR still remains the overthrow of this same Thermidorian bureaucracy. Each day added to its domination helps rot the foundations of the socialist elements of economy and increases the chances for capitalist restoration.” (The Transitional Programme p55.)

43. The leap of the counter-revolution in recent weeks is a chilling confirmation of Trotsky’s warning that the continued rule of the bureaucracy was preparing the ground for capitalist restoration in the USSR. Of course our tendency, analysing the changed situation immediately following the Second World War, pointed out that “for a whole historical period, Stalinism was temporarily strengthened” (Programme of the International p7.)

44. During this period, the threat of capitalist restoration seemed not only remote, but totally excluded. Then, Nikita Khrushchev boasted that ‘The present generation of Soviet people will live in the time of Communism.” The sweeping gains of the planned economy, despite bureaucratic mismanagement, filled the bureaucracy with confidence in their own future. Support for a return to capitalism among the bureaucracy and the population as a whole was miniscule.

45. But this temporary strengthening gave way to a long drawn-out decay throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Now once again the perspective raised by Trotsky in the 1930s is raised. Two stark choices confront the proletariat of the USSR and Eastern Europe: either the working class will take over the running of society or we will see a descent towards capitalist anarchy, further chaos and possible civil war.

46. For the working class to come to power it must carry through a political revolution which now will combine elements of the social revolution: renationalisation of privatised companies, re-establishment of the plan but on a democratic basis.

47. However, there is a fundamental difference in the situation today as compared to when Trotsky was alive. Such is the complete degeneration of the bureaucracy, the collapse of their confidence in the old system of central planning, that capitalism is seen as the only way forward by all significant sections of the bureaucracy in today’s situation.

48. In the future, faced with a massive movement of the proletariat, the ruling strata could attempt to re-establish greater state control and be compelled to take measures against the capitalists’ interests. In many semi-colonial countries in the past we have seen bourgeois Bonapartist regimes forced to extend state control over the economy in order to defend their own position. Given the extremely unstable nature of the new regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe it is difficult to determine in advance how far this process could go.

49. The situation in the USSR is not unique. In Romania, despite the crushing of the open elements of bourgeois counter- revolution in June 1990, with Iliescu and the National Salvation Front leaning on the miners and Bucharest workers, the ex-Stalinist leaders of the Front have still shifted decisively towards capitalism. In the concrete situation which existed in Romania, a movement of workers against a perceived threat to their revolution, we gave critical support to the miners. However, we did not support all the methods used and called upon the workers to place no confidence in the Front leadership, building their own democratic workers’ committees instead.

50. In the conflict in Yugoslavia, Marxists do not give the slightest ‘critical’ support to the Serbian Stalinist regime of Milosevic. Ifs true that the Croatian and Slovenian governments are revolting nationalist pro-bourgeois regimes whose policies spell catastrophe for the Croatian and Slovene workers. But Milosevic and the army generals are not motivated by a desire to defend the planned economy.

51. They are acting to defend the power, privileges and territorial interests of the Serbian ruling elite which also seeks to move to capitalism. Their latest blueprint for ‘Greater Serbia’ which concedes Slovenian independence but envisages Serbian control of East Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo, also clearly advocates a market economy.

52. Clearly Marxists cannot give, even in the sharply critical fashion posed by Trotsky, the slightest support to either the open pro-bourgeois camp of Yeltsin and Sobchak or to the hardliners behind the coup. The working class, acting independently through its own organisations and under a revolutionary leadership, is the only force capable of re-establishing and developing the planned economy today.

53. During the coup therefore, the Marxists in the USSR called for support for the general strike, not on the programme of Yeltsin (for the return of Gorbachev and the continuation of the market reforms), but to defeat the coup with a revolutionary programme for workers’ democracy. We explained that the limited democratic rights of the last period could only be safeguarded by the working class taking power. We called for the building of democratic workers’ committees, arming of the workers and an appeal to the rank and file soldiers.

54. Marxists could not stand aside or adopt a position of passive neutrality in the conflict that developed. It would be entirely wrong to present these events in a one-sided manner and dismiss all those forces involved against the coup as counter-revolutionary. We must distinguish between the masses involved in the struggle against the coup and the counter-revolutionaries around Yeltsin. For the reasons we have mentioned, above all the absence of the subjective factor, these events have given a big impetus to the process towards restoration. But this is a dialectical process, with many similarities to events in Eastern Europe although here events were concentrated into a matter of days rather than weeks or months.

55. It is impossible for revolutionaries to orient in such a situation if they only see one element, to the exclusion of all others, in what is an extremely complex process. The working class opposed the coup seeing its own interests threatened, with the attack on the partial democratic gains of the last period. Their struggle therefore began around limited objectives, reflecting the limitations of workers’ consciousness at this stage. The setting back of workers’ consciousness is, as we have said, above all because of the long experience of dictatorship. It would be wrong to confuse the aims and aspirations of the working class and the diametrically opposed, counter-revolutionary aims of Yeltsin.

56. The logic of such a position would mean that in practice we would have opposed the general strike and placed ourselves on a collision course with the best workers and youth. There are certain analogies with Kornilov’s attempted coup in 1917 where the Petrograd workers, despite their hostility to Kerensky, mobilised against an attempt by open reaction to overturn the gains of the revolution. Then Trotsky called on workers to “use Kerensky as a gun-rest to shoot Komilov. Afterwards we will settle with Kerensky”. Clearly this did not imply any support for the Kerensky government. The critical difference in the situation in the Soviet Union today is the absence of the subjective factor.

57. As we have said, the crucial factor determining the attitude of workers was the need to defend their limited democratic gains. This was the starting point for the propaganda and agitation of the Marxists. By struggling alongside the strikers and the youth on the barricades we demonstrate that we are the most determined fighters in defence of workers’ interests including their democratic rights, while at the same time warning of the thoroughly anti-working class and anti-democratic nature of Yeltsin and the restorationists, and explaining that only by the working class taking power can these democratic rights be guaranteed.

Prospects for Capitalist Restoration

58. Victory over the coup will seem easy in comparison to the tasks that now confront Yeltsin and Gorbachev on the road to capitalist restoration. They face an economic catastrophe. GNP has slumped by 10 per cent in the first six months of 1991. This follows a 14 per cent fall in 1990. Inflation is heading for an annual rate of 100 per cent. So far this year, food production has declined by 8.5 per cent. Serious fuel shortages and potential famine are predicted for the winter. This year’s expected grain harvest is 195-200 million tonnes compared to 218 million tonnes in 1990. 35 per cent of the 1990 crop was lost in harvesting or in storage and processing. 60 per cent of last year’s vegetable crop was lost. Harvesting problems are even worse this year.

59. Recent events undoubtedly make restoration more likely. Significant inroads could now be made into the nationalised economy. We now see the coming to power of a pro-bourgeois government as in Czechoslovakia, Poland and other countries of Eastern Europe. In addition, the state monopoly of foreign trade has been abolished and the centralised plan has broken down. This is a transitional regime heading in the direction of capitalist counter-revolution. However, this process has not been completed and certainly not consolidated.

60. The result is the emergence of a monstrous hybrid which combines the remnants of a proletarian Bonapartist regime – large elements of state ownership – but where increasingly we see the emergence of capitalist property relations fostered by the counter-revolutionaries who have taken the helm in society. Increasingly a nascent bourgeois class is developing, primarily from the ranks of the old bureaucracy. Within the state apparatus too a shift is taking place with the advancement of a younger, more pro-capitalist layer of officers. Even though, at this stage, decisive sections of the economy are still state owned, the direction in which this regime is heading is decisively towards capitalism. However, colossal difficulties lie ahead, not least of all the opposition of the huge proletariat.

61. Trotsky referred to the problems confronting capitalist counter-revolution when he said:

“It would be capitalism fraught with contradictions that exclude the possibility of its progressive development. For all those contradictions, which according to our hypothesis might bring about the blow up of the Soviet regime, would immediately reappear as internal contradictions in the capitalist regime, and would very soon acquire even greater explosiveness. This means that within the capitalist counter-revolution there would be elements of a new October Revolution.” (Writings 1931-32 p73-74).

62. Despite their recent victory, the ascendant pro-capitalist elements do not look forward with confidence. Shevardnadze and Yeltsin warned of food riots in Moscow this winter and the danger of another coup. This is possible, even likely in the coming period. Pro-Gorbachev journalist Otto Latsis warned that hyper-inflation could bring about “not a beggarly putsch but a protest from the people”. A pro-Yeltsin deputy commented after the coup, “Workers are tired of everyone, of Gorbachev, Yeltsin and me. What they want is food.”

63. The restoration of capitalism will only be achieved by overcoming the resistance of the Soviet workers. As we have explained before, stable bourgeois democratic regimes are ruled out under the conditions that exist in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Capitalism would rest on the super-exploitation of the working class. Western investment would primarily seek to exploit cheap labour backed up by a permanent reserve army of unemployed and the supply of raw materials. Already we see strong tendencies towards Bonapartism, not just of Gorbachev, but of Yeltsin and regional overlords like Gamsakhurdia in Georgia. Without a movement of the proletariat to seize power, new attempts to impose open military rule are inevitable.

64. Whether a new coup attempt is successful or not depends on the concrete circumstances and the degree of disillusionment that exists. The working class will not easily submit to a new openly dictatorial regime. But the situation is extremely unstable and we must be prepared for abrupt developments. Given the potentially explosive national antagonisms that exist, local coups are possible in some of the republics. The central military command too may intervene in some republics despite the enormous difficulties this would entail. The position of the Russian and other minorities would be used to justify such an intervention. A new military Bonapartist regime in Russia or the Union, rather than attempting to re-establish centralised control and planning, is far more likely to be a pro-bourgeois regime with the aim of forcing through the transition to capitalism.

65. So far foreign investment in the Soviet Union has been negligible. The latest proposal from Yeltsin’s Prime Minister Silayev is to give foreign capitalists a stake in Russia’s huge reserves of natural resources (oil, gas, timber etc) in return for investment in new technology. If this develops, it raises the prospect of an economy dominated by foreign capital as under Tzarism with only a small native capitalist class. Therefore, while a capitalist Russia would attempt to play an Imperialist role in relation to its neighbours, its economic base would have many elements of a semi-colonial country.

66. This is also clear when we consider that Silayev’s proposals would not benefit manufacturing industry where a massive technological gap must be overcome. There are some potentially profitable and technologically advanced sectors such as the aircraft industry which could attract foreign investment or partnership. But these are few, while most sectors would collapse without continued state support. This again suggests that a capitalist development of the economy would lead to a heavy reliance on exports of primary goods and a corresponding dependence on imported manufactured goods.

A new era of world relations

67. While Imperialism has scored a massive propaganda bonus from these developments/ the crisis in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe raises grave new problems for world capitalism. The West will be forced to intervene with emergency aid if severe food shortages develop this winter. But while they are forced to take such measures, for fear of a flood of refugees and the further destabilisation of the situation/ they cannot provide the resources needed to eradicate the economic crisis.

68. Huge sums are required to modernise and re-equip Soviet industry, as well as stabilise the rouble and provide a certain social security cushion for the effects of restructuring industry. Gorbachev’s proposal to the G7 for a ‘Grand Bargain’ of $150 billion over 5 years has been turned down. Nothing like this sum is on offer from the West. Even this proposal, at $30 billion a year, is less than half the amount which German capitalism is spending on East Germany – with a population of 16 million as against 285 million in the USSR.

69. There are fundamental differences in the position of world capitalism compared with the end of the Second World War. At that time US capitalism resorted to a huge Keynesian spending programme because of its fear of revolution in Europe. This, and especially the growth of world trade allowed capitalism to rebuild the ruined economies of Western Europe. Today, world capitalism does not have the resources for such a massive injection of capital. The US is now the world’s biggest debtor. In addition to its budget and current account deficits, the US now has a host of state and city administrations which are technically bankrupt. US Imperialism faces a $100 billion bill for its war in the Gulf. There has been a turn around in the position of German capitalism, the world’s biggest creditor in 1989, but now carrying a huge deficit because of reunification. Japanese finance capital has been switching back towards domestic investment since the large falls on the stock exchange in 1990. Who then will finance the ‘Grand Bargain’?

70. For three years (1949 to 1951) the US spent two per cent of its national income, equivalent then to one per cent of world income, on the Marshall Plan. A comparable figure today would be at least $200 billion. This dwarfs the figures so far mooted by the bourgeois. The EC’s European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has a total budget of $12.4 billion. Given the critical role of the expansion of world trade in the post war boom, what are the prospects for the Soviet Union on the world market? Already there are increasing trade tensions between the capitalist states and the outline of future trade wars. But also the obsolete nature of much of Soviet manufacturing means they will have great problems competing on the world market. A drive to export fuel and raw materials would open fierce competition with other oil producing and third world countries.

71. The break up of the Soviet Union threatens dire consequences for world capitalism economically, politically and militarily. It would enormously destabilise the world situation, making Yugoslavia look like a sideshow. On the other hand, the emergence of an Imperialist Russia or ‘Union of Sovereign States’ would also have ominous implications for world capitalism leading to new strains and conflicts in international relations. This would be an inherently unstable capitalist power, struggling with enormous economic and social problems and at the same time possessing a massive military machine including over 25,000 nuclear warheads.

72. Far from signalling the end of the cold war, capitalist restoration would open a new era of inter-imperialist rivalries. We currently see increasing tensions among the advanced capitalist countries with the development of three major blocs (North America, Western Europe and Japan). The dispute over the stumbling GAIT talks is a warning of the bitter economic disputes that can develop between the major powers in the future.

73. If a new Russian Imperialism emerges it will enormously complicate the situation. German capitalism hopes to utilise the collapse of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe to secure its own domination of the region. They see these events as a historic opportunity to subjugate the region from the Baltics to Croatia, converting these weak and ruined economies into semi-colonies. For this reason Kohl and the German banks are in the forefront of demands for greater Western aid for the Soviet Union. A new German-Soviet or German-Russian axis may emerge, with German capitalism exploiting its position in negotiations over aid and investment, to gain advantages over its rivals.

74. But inevitably a conflict of interests will develop between German capitalism and a capitalist Russia or confederation. At a certain point a ferocious struggle could develop between these two giants for hegemony in central and eastern Europe. New Imperialist alliances and counter-alliances would take shape, possibly with some EC states such as Britain, France and Italy attempting to bloc with Russia to thwart German capitalism’s increasing domination of Western Europe. Far from a new world “order”, we are entering a new period of enormous instability in world relations.

Can the Union survive?

75. The economies of the republics in the Soviet Union were integrated to an unparalleled extent. Seventy years of planning, even bureaucratic planning, produced one vast interdependent economy stretching across two continents with an enormous division of labour between republics and regions. The economies of Eastern Europe, by contrast, were hardly integrated at all. As we have explained before, this was a conscious policy of Stalin in order to assure the dominant position of the Soviet bureaucracy. This complex multinational character of the Soviet economy is a critical factor complicating the attempts to restore capitalism.

76. Georgia exports 53 per cent of its production to the rest of the Soviet Union. It has no food processing industry, virtually no electricity generating capacity and imports all its coal, paper and televisions. The Asian republics are the main producers of cotton, but most is transported to Moscow and Leningrad where 80 per cent of the Soviet Union’s textiles are manufactured. In Byelorussia the chemical industry is a major employer but it is heavily dependent on cheap Russian oil. Byelorussia is the biggest producer of trucks in the Soviet Union but imports nearly all its steel from Russia. Therefore for Byelorussia and the other republics, as the Guardian commented “independence could be an act of economic self-immolation”. At the same time, despite the towering trade surplus enjoyed by Russia and the Ukraine, they too would lose out from such a development. The switch to world prices for trade with Eastern Europe is a big factor in the slump in Soviet exports by 23.4 per cent during the first six months of this year. By placing the other republics on rations, the Ukraine and Russia would also inflict enormous damage on their own economies.

77. Disentangling this economic structure will not be easy. The various pro-capitalist groupings within the bureaucracy and the international bourgeois have come to realise this. The idea of fifteen separate central banks, currencies, tariff regulations etc. is a horrific scenario for any potential Western investors. The Boston Consulting Group argues that the Soviet economy is “so completely interdependent, it is a nightmare. If it disintegrates into autarchy, production will go down by 50 per cent”.

78. Because of the economic and political consequences. Imperialism is exerting enormous pressure to prevent a further break up of the Soviet Union. Kohl has called for the retention of the Soviet Union as a state entity that alone should negotiate with the West on aid and should control the nuclear arsenal. Kohl warned there was no prospect for Western aid unless a new Soviet economic and monetary union is formed.

79. The German capitalists, who are the Soviet Union’s biggest lender accounting for 56 per cent of total loans, are terrified that the tendencies towards national disintegration threaten their repayments. It is proposed that from January 1992 the $62 billion foreign debt will be divided among the republics. The Russian federation, with 80 per cent of the Soviet Union’s hard currency reserves, announced it would only accept responsibility for 50 per cent of the foreign debt. The head of Deutsche Bank warned that disbanding the Soviet central bank would jeopardise the chances of foreign aid.

80. These fears have also concentrated the mind of the leaderships in the republics. After the initial rush to declare independence most have subsequently retreated. Yeltsin was forced to tone down his earlier confrontational approach over borders. Mayor Sobchak was dispatched to Kiev to calm the nerves of the Ukrainian leadership. All sides peered into the abyss and have drawn back in horror.

81. Kravchuk, who days before had proclaimed the Ukraine’s independence, pleaded that “Everything must be suspended. If we do not maintain the status quo and do not stick to today’s borders, terrible political and economic conflicts could result.” This explains the fresh attempts to arrive at a new, albeit looser, confederation rather than see the total break-up of the Union.

82. These pressures explain how Gorbachev continues in office despite his unpopularity among the masses and within the state apparatus. Despite the heavy blow suffered by the centre, a vacuum exists which for the time being at least, only Gorbachev can fill. Yeltsin needs Gorbachev as a cover. He does not want to assume sole responsibility for the economic crisis. Also Yeltsin’s push to replace the central Union bureaucracy produced a reaction from the republics which threatened to shatter the Union. So the de facto coalition forged between Gorbachev and Yeltsin before the coup continues. Yeltsin’s rise has been partly checked. Gorbachev can continue balancing, albeit precariously, utilising the fact that his opponents fear the alternatives to Gorbachev more than they hate Gorbachev himself.

83. While this will be an extremely unstable arrangement, a new confederation of “Sovereign States” could survive for a period, precisely because the alternative would be an economic and political catastrophe. However, the moves to restore capitalism, and a further collapse of state ownership and planning, will enormously aggravate the rivalries between the republics and nationalities, placing this agreement under enormous strains. Ultimately, unless the proletariat intervenes to cut across this process, these explosive tensions could prepare the way for civil war and new military coups.

The Nationalities

84. The national question in the Soviet Union is extremely complex, perhaps even more so than in Lenin’s day. A fuller account of this critical question for the Marxists will be produced in the near future. This statement, therefore, only deals with a general outline of the situation. Of course the Marxists stand for the right of self determination, up to and including separation. However, how exactly we raise our demands in relation to the national question depends on the concrete situation which exists. It requires extreme sensitivity and skill in raising our specific demands. At the same time, we must warn of the dangers posed by the break up of the Union – which we oppose – above all on a capitalist basis. We must explain why we would stand for and defend a genuinely free Union of workers’ democracies in the republics. This is still the only programme to resolve the national question. Recent events in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia demonstrate that neither decaying Stalinism or capitalism is capable of solving this problem.

85. The question of the minorities, especially the Russian minorities in the republics, will be decisive in the power struggles that are unfolding. 75 million Soviet citizens live outside their home republic. 25 million ethnic Russians live outside the Russian federation.

86. Like Milosevic, who exploited the position of the minority Serb populations in Kosovo and Croatia to maintain his regime and extend its control, Yeltsin has shown he is prepared to “champion” the rights of the Russian settlers. His threats to the Ukraine (where Russians are 21 per cent of the population) and Kazakhstan (40 per cent) over recognition of their borders, shows how the fears of the Russian population will be utilised by the Russian state in future conflicts with the other republics. Not for nothing did the Ukrainian premier Kravchuk complain of Yeltsin’s “imperialist tendencies”.

87. Already in Moldova, where the ethnic Romanian majority have declared independence, this is opposed by the 700,000 Russians of the Dnestr region who have declared their own independent republic and the formation of a national guard. This Russian enclave is decisive industrially, controlling all power supplies and most rail and road links to Moldova. ‘A blockade by the Russian minority could paralyse the economy of Moldova. Elsewhere too, because of the manner in which Stalinist industrialisation was carried out, the Russian minority form the core of the industrial working class. These workers can play a decisive role in the struggles of the next period. But there are also great dangers of a layer of these workers being driven in the direction of Russian nationalism.

88. In the Transcaucasian republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, a Balkanisation is taking place. Armed conflicts are spreading with significant minorities opposing independence from the Soviet Union, as in the case of the South Ossetians and Abkhazians in Georgia and the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh who are opposed to Azerbaijani rule.

89. The collapse of the coup gave an enormous impetus to these processes. The shock of the coup and fear of a return to Stalinism has increased support for independence among the nationalities. But also the bureaucracy in the republics are increasingly basing themselves on the pro-independence movements in order to maintain their own positions. Within hours of the coup collapsing, Kravchuk (Ukraine), Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan) and Mutalibov (Azerbaijan) all performed political somersaults, coming out for independence and cutting their links with the now discredited Communist Party.

The Baltic States

90. The newly independent Baltic states face an extremely uncertain future. Unlike the economies of Eastern Europe, these economies were completely integrated into the Soviet economy. Two-thirds of the industrial production of Estonia and Latvia goes elsewhere in the Soviet Union. They are entirely dependent on the Soviet Union for electricity, gas and oil.

91. The change to hard currency payments for Soviet fuel and raw materials has had disastrous effects on the former COMECON economies of Eastern Europe. A switch to world prices for trade with the Soviet Union could bring the Baltic economies to their knees. This could more than cancel out the gains from foreign, especially German, Swedish and Finnish, investment which these pro-bourgeois regimes hope to tempt in. For this reason, it cannot be ruled out that some or all of the Baltic states may opt to retain, in a diluted form, “associate membership” of a new economic confederation with the rest of the Soviet Union.

92. At the same time the Baltic states are in a somewhat different position to the other republics. Western capitalism will now try to draw the Baltic states into its orbit. A certain level of Western investment is possible as these were technologically the most advanced economies in the Soviet Union. Estonia’s productivity, for example, is 40 per cent above the Soviet average. Geographically and economically they occupy an important position and could develop as a bridgehead for foreign companies looking for a production base for the Soviet market. Already there are 140 Scandinavian joint ventures operating in Estonia. Because these are small economies, foreign aid and investment could have a greater effect than elsewhere. Such an economic development however, means that these states will be pawns in the hands of the regional powers: German, Scandinavian and if restoration is carried through to a conclusion, Russian capitalism. Workers’ illusions in capitalism, and in “independence” on a capitalist basis, will be cruelly shattered.

93. The EC is discussing “associate membership” for the Baltic states. But the treatment of Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia is an indication of the limits of the EC’s generosity. Despite its offer to increase their access to European markets, the EC still keeps out steel, textiles and farm produce from these countries. This has provoked new splits within the EC, with France particularly opposing farm imports from Eastern Europe. Walesa recently threatened to withdraw Poland’s application to become an “associate member” of the EC.

94. But the problems confronting the Baltic states are not just on the economic plain. The position of the Russians (33 per cent of Latvia’s population, 28 per cent of Estonia’s), and other minorities could be a source of fierce conflicts in the future. A section of the Russian minority actually support independence, believing that the switch to the market will eventually raise living standards. Others were already resigned to independence, seeing it as inevitable. But the large Russian, Ukrainian and Polish minorities could move into violent opposition if, as is likely given the character of the nationalist governments, they face discriminatory legislation on one hand, and find themselves at the sharp end of the market reforms on the other. Many of the big enterprises facing rationalisation or closure employ all-Russian workforces from management down to the shop floor.

96. A re-establishment of the Soviet Union’s domination of its former East European satellites is extremely unlikely. But there are significant differences in the position of the Baltic states, especially the presence of the large Russian minority. Despite acceptance of their independence by the central bureaucracy and the generals today, new conflicts are inevitable. They will be permanently under pressure from the military colossus over their border. Disputes have already arisen over the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the question of the naval bases. In the economic sphere too, there will be bitter wrangling over Soviet demands for compensation for industry and investments in the Baltics. The position of the Russian minority will undoubtedly be utilised by the Soviet and Russian regimes in these disputes.

The working class movement

97. Huge battles are inevitable in the coming period, although the timing and scale of the movement depends on many factors. While the failure of the coup has emboldened the counter-revolution, it has also raised the confidence of important layers of the proletariat. Of course this is a very complex and contradictiory situation. The consciousness of the working class, for reasons we have explained, has been thrown back. Enormous illusions and confusion exists. Big sections of the Soviet workers are not at this stage conscious of their position as a class.

95. This situation holds enormous dangers, both for the nationalist governments, but also for the workers’ movement in the Baltics and in Russia. Already the sacking of Russian managers and councillors who supported the coup has been denounced by leaders of the Russian community in Estonia. The Estonian nationalist leadership want to limit citizenship to those whose families lived in the country before 1939. These conflicts, especially if refugees begin to pour back into Russia, can be seized upon by Russian nationalists and Yeltsin to fan the flames of nationalism within Russia.

98. But this mighty proletariat will be educated by experience in struggle. The practical effects of the market reforms will jar against the current illusions in capitalism and bourgeois democracy. As in Eastern Europe, developments will not proceed in a straight line. The weakness of the subjective factor means that, while battles are inevitable, so too are defeats and even moods of despair and reaction. But with political clarity and firmness in the face of a complex situation, there are also great possibilities for the small forces of Marxism to build initially among the most advanced workers and youth.

99. At a certain point, despite the confusion that exists, big battles will develop. The overwhelming concentration of industrial workers in huge factories adds to the restorationists’ problems. 73.4 per cent of Soviet industrial workers are in enterprises employing more than 1,000 workers. In West Germany this accounts for only 39.7 per cent of the industrial workforce. Many of these enterprises would become frontline targets for sackings or closure.

100. Developments in Eastern Europe give an indication of how the illusions in capitalism will begin to break down. We have seen the beginning of a shift in the mood of the working class in a number of countries. This does not mean there are not illusions still, or that the mass of workers have drawn all the conclusions from the situation. These changes in the outlook of some sections of the working class are just beginning. But in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary there is a growing disillusionment with “the market”.

101. In Poland there is now enormous opposition to the policies of the government. The Finance Minister’s ‘Balcerowicz Plan’ is supported by only 21 per cent of the population. 77 per cent of Poles believe that these measures will provoke “a massive protest movement” and 52 per cent said they “would join such a movement”! More people now oppose Walesa than opposed Jaruzelski during his last months in office. There has been a big strike wave with an average of 20 strikes a day in July and August. Because of the obstructive role of both the OPZZ and NSZZ (Solidarity) leaders, this was largely a localised and sporadic movement, but it reflects a new preparedness to struggle on the part of Polish workers.

102. We must remember the deep illusions in the market that existed two years ago in Poland. This is a proletariat, unlike the Soviet working class, which suffered defeats in 1956, 1971 and especially in 1981. The ex-Stalinist Social Democrats are undoubtedly gaining from the growing disillusionment. It is increasingly common to hear workers say “we were better off under the Communists”. Michnik of Solidarity even predicted that the ex-Stalinists could get 20 per cent of the vote (compared to 3 per cent in local elections in 1990) in the coming general election. This is perhaps an exaggeration, but it is clear that the Social Democrats have made gains.

103. In Slovakia opinion polls now show a majority for the left parties. The Party of the Democratic Left (ex-Stalinist) have around 16 per cent and Democratic Slovakia have around 38 per cent. The Slovak Prime Minister Meciar (Democratic Slovakia) who frustrated the implementation of the Prague government’s market reforms was removed by a constitutional coup and replaced by the nationalist Christian Democrat Camoguvsky. Because of the parlous state of the Slovak economy Meciar resisted the plans to close big sections of the arms industry and other heavy industry. On the basis of quite a radical programme, calling for guarantees against unemployment and the need for continued state support, Meciar’s party is the most popular force in Slovakia. A partial general strike developed and 100,000 surrounded and stormed the Slovak parliament when Meciar was deposed. Of course the national question is an important factor in the situation, but this does not explain workers’ support for the left parties. The programme of the openly bourgeois parties is far more nationalist.

104. Marxists need to be sensitive to every indication of shifts and changes in the mood of the workers. We still have to overcome enormous illusions. But the criticisms of the Marxists of capitalism meet with a much more open response today. In Eastern Europe the pro-market euphoria of the previous period has given way to a questioning attitude among an increasing layer of workers and youth.

105. In the Soviet Union we must watch closely the developments in industry in the coming months. The failure of the coup could provide a new impetus to the formation of genuine workers’ organisations. In some areas the independent unions, which in most cases were not unions at all but small political pressure groups, could begin to develop. It’s also possible that the old official unions will undergo a transformation in the next period. Without the link to the party and the state, the old corrupt leaders connected to management could be pushed out by an infusion of workers, or these leaders could themselves adapt for opportunist reasons to a growing mood of opposition. Some of the old official organisations could become the focal point of opposition to the pro-capitalist policies.

International Effects

106. In assessing the international repercussions of events in the Soviet Union, once again we must consider all sides of the process. The outcome undoubtedly represents a victory for Imperialism. The US, fresh from its crushing defeat of Iraq is beating its chest at its ‘victory’ in the cold war. It will attempt to press home its current advantage, with the paralysis of the USSR in the international arena, to establish its political domination in the semi-colonial world.

107. Therefore we must recognise that this signifies an important shift in the international balance of forces in favour of Imperialism. But this relative strengthening of Imperialism does not rest either on a strengthening of capitalism economically and the lessening of its internal contradictions, or on serious defeats for the workers in the advanced capitalist countries. In the semi-colonial countries we have seen an enormous development of the proletariat and its organisations in certain countries: Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, Malaysia and other countries in South East Asia. The dispute in the Philippines over US bases shows the difficulties confronting US Imperialism in its attempts to play the role of world policeman on behalf of capitalism.

108. In Asia and Latin America there is a general downturn in the guerrilla struggle, with some exceptions such as Peru. The collapse of ‘the model’ – of a powerful Stalinist pole of attraction – during the last period is the major reason for this. The regimes in Africa which moved in the direction of proletarian Bonapartism during the 1970s were weak, crisis-ridden regimes which did not exercise the same attractive power in the region as, for example, the Cuban revolution did throughout the Americas and internationally. Along with the conscious efforts of the Soviet bureaucracy to prevent new proletarian Bonapartist regimes – as in Nicaragua � and economic decline in the Soviet Union while capitalism experienced a boom, the 1980s marked a period when no new proletarian Bonapartist regimes were established.

109. The disintegration of Stalinism in the Soviet Union will compound this process. Events in Eastern Europe have already had a disorientating effect within the various guerrilla organisations. The FMLN in El Salvador are discussing abandoning the armed struggle and contesting the 1994 presidential elections. Four of Columbia’s six guerrilla groups have abandoned their military campaign. The defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the collapse of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia have reinforced this trend. These events have dealt a blow to the confidence of the guerrilla organisations and reinforced the leadership’s shift to the right.

110. In the short-term these processes will tend to mitigate against the establishment of new proletarian Bonapartist regimes. It would be a mistake to exclude their establishment in the medium or longer term, especially against the background of a major economic crisis. How stable such regimes may be is, of course, another question.

111. The coming to power of a restorationist regime in the Soviet Union will inevitably undermine the position of the remaining proletarian Bonapartist regimes. US Imperialism has demanded an end to Soviet support for Cuba and the Afghan regime. Already the cut in Soviet subsidies and oil supplies has had a devastating effect on the Cuban economy. Imperialism clearly intends to intensify this pressure on Castro. But the situation in Cuba is different in a number of respects to that which existed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, not least because the masses’ perception of the gains of the revolution is greater, as is the hostility to US Imperialism.

112. Nevertheless, given the economic disaster which has now opened up, and against the general international background, a struggle against the regime is a strong likelihood. The absence of any alternative can result in similar illusions in the market taking hold. It is however, not excluded that the Castro regime could attempt to make a stand and fight it out.

113. However, despite this relative strengthening of Imperialism, the turmoil in the semi-colonial world will shatter any illusions of a “new world order” of peaceful capitalist development. Far from alleviating conditions, the capitalist boom of 1982-90 was accompanied by an unprecedented driving down of the living conditions of the working class and the peasantry. As we have explained, this was a critical element feeding the boom in the advanced capitalist countries. During the 1980s, there was a net transfer from the semi-colonial countries to the advanced capitalist nations of $220 billion. This is a recipe for explosive revolutionary upheavals in the coming period.

114. One effect of the coup’s collapse will be to further encourage the masses in the semi-colonial world in the struggle against military Bonapartist regimes. The movements in Eastern Europe during 1989 undoubtedly had an enormous effect in the semi-colonial countries. In Nepal, we saw this with the overthrow of the monarchy by a general strike and in the fall of Ershad in Bangladesh. In Africa we have seen a wave of struggle in one country after another, which Der Spiegel referred to as an “African Intifada”. One example was the movement of workers and students against Kaunda in Zambia, which resulted in the miners’ union calling for the formation of a workers’ party. As with the movements in Eastern Europe, at this stage, the masses have big illusions in parliamentary i.e. bourgeois democracy.

115. Nevertheless, what these developments signify, especially when we consider the general decline in the activity of peasant guerrilla movements, is an increasing tendency for the proletariat in these countries to assert itself. The rotten bourgeois Bonapartist regimes in the colonial world are terrified by these events. This explains the shift taking place in sub-Saharan Africa whereby more than half the region’s 38 military dictatorships will have moved to some form of “multi-party democracy” – at least in name – by the end of this year.

116. These regimes have seen the writing on the wall with the toppling of the Stalinist one-party regimes. They are trying to head off a movement from below by partial democratisation from above. As Gorbachev discovered, however, these measures can embolden the masses and lead to an explosion of the class struggle in the coming period. Against the background of a fall in real wages of more than 30 per cent in Africa during the 1980s, 80 per cent in some African countries, far from pacifying the working class these limited democratic rights will be seized by the proletariat to advance its own position in society.

117. The movement against the coup has had a contradictory effect on the consciousness of workers internationally. Many, especially the broad mass of workers in the advanced capitalist countries see the outcome as a victory, another example of a mass movement bringing down a dictatorship and defending democratic rights. This can raise the confidence and preparedness to fight of workers’ in the West. The movement against the poll tax in Britain, for example, undoubtedly drew encouragement from the mass movements in Eastern Europe.

118. At the same time, however, the acceleration of the counter-revolution and the capitalist propaganda offensive, in the context of the recent boom have succeeded in sowing confusion. For many workers, at this stage, the planned economy is not seen as a viable alternative to the market. Unless important class battles cut across this, in the short term, the leadership of the workers’ organisations will probably drift even further to the right.

119. One important outcome of these events will be their profound effects on the consciousness of the US proletariat. By removing the bogey of an external threat from “communism” these events disarm the bosses of their main propaganda weapon against workers in struggle. In the course of the inevitable battles of the American workers in the next period, this removes a major obstacle to the politicisation of US workers and greater readiness to accept socialist ideas.

120. In the semi-colonial countries too, we see a contradictory situation. On one hand an important section of the working class, particularly where the Stalinists still have strong roots, supported the coup. They believed that Gorbachev’s removal was striking a blow against Imperialism and that the coup would preserve ‘socialism’ in the Soviet Union. For these workers, the coup may have a disorientating effect. In the short term, some could draw the most pessimistic conclusions.

121. Where the Stalinist model exercised a powerful attraction for the masses in the past, such moods could be widespread. But despite this, the shattering of illusions in Stalinism and the hold of Stalinist organisations over important sections of workers has a very positive side. This period opens an historic opportunity for the Marxists on soil which was difficult, if not impossible, to penetrate in the past. A mood of enormous questioning and searching for explanations exists among workers traditionally aligned with the Stalinists, especially the youth. In a number of semi-colonial countries we have already begun to make important new inroads among this layer since the failed coup.

122. In the advanced capitalist countries too, important opportunities exist among workers who supported the Stalinists. The effect of the latest events will perhaps be even more traumatic within the CPs and ex-CPs than the events in Hungary in 1956.

Even before the coup virtually every CP in the advanced capitalist world was wracked by crises and splits. The coup’s defeat and the abandonment of the planned economy and ‘socialism’ by the regime in the USSR will enormously accelerate these processes. If the Marxists make a bold turn – as the defenders of the planned economy and the tradition of Lenin – we can make important gains where the Stalinists or ex-Stalinists represent a significant layer of the advanced workers.

123. Therefore, while taking account of the complexities in the new international situation, the Marxists must seize the opportunities which present themselves. The collapse of Stalinism sweeps away one of the greatest obstacles that has existed to the development of genuine revolutionary ideas among the working class. Now with the banner of Marxism and even ‘socialism’ being trampled underfoot by both the reformists and yesterday’s Stalinist leaders, our tendency has been presented with an historic opportunity. By conducting a tenacious defence of the ideas of genuine Marxism in this period we can attract the most determined and spirited fighters within the working class East and West – who have nowhere else to turn.

September 1991




Source: Socialistworld.net