International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International (1990): 50 years since the assassination of Trotsky

An interview with two Soviet youth

During his trip to the Soviet Union, North interviewed two Soviet youth, Ivan and Sergei, who are members of the Moscow Committee of New Socialists, a nonformal political organization.

Ivan: In our country, because of the bad economic conditions, because of the low level of the productivity of labor, the non-convertibility of the ruble and inefficient industry, the wages are very low and the living conditions are very bad. The roots of our problems are deeply buried. They’re rooted in the Stalinist system of society. Under Stalinism, I mean this: through the monopoly of power, the central apparatus sets up control over the whole economy, the whole governmental system and the whole social and political culture of the country. Because of their monopoly on power, the economic system is very inefficient because the ruling circles don’t even care whether planning is done correctly or not. They control the means of distribution and they have a good life independently of the economic consequences of their actions. This has been happening up until the last period, In the last period, they have tried to prevent a growing catastrophe through reform measures. Now they want to transform it from a system where it was almost a feudal system of control, where one-fifth or one-sixth of the population was jailed or in work camps, into a system of a more capitalist hiring of labor power, a more capitalist structure. These reforms hit especially hard the less advantaged layers of the population. They begin to experience more and more social and economic pressures of the worst possible kind. The ruling circles are afraid of the consequences of these reforms on the wide masses of the population. I think that Gorbachev and people around him are aware of the dangers of these measures.

What is heartening now is the growing politicization of the young people. There’s a lot of nonformal movements. Our movement, which is calling for revolutionary socialist changes, its goal is to prevent these kind of pressures on the working class and to prevent the further worsening of their condition. There is a big growth of movements amongst the youth, nonformal movements, nonconformist movements, which are beginning more and more to take structures and formalize their structures and find some support within society.

Another very heartening development was the development of the strike movement among the miners. It implies the growing consciousness of the workers and the workers’ movement. An important development was the establishment of strike committees which not only direct the strike, but the whole life of the cities and become real organs of workers’ power. They begin to organize the workers, they become alternative power, alternative government and, with some possibility of further development, could become the organs of real socialist self-management for the workers.

I am a member of the Moscow Committee of New Socialists. The Committees of New Socialists are springing up in Moscow, Leningrad and other cities and also in the mining districts. We are planning to have a constitutional convention of all these committees in order to found a socialist party; a socialist party in opposition to the official Communist Party will be a real party of the working class, a real socialist party.

It’s very encouraging that a lot of the members of the Moscow Committee of New Socialists are from the student youth. Our program of the New Socialists coincides in many ways with the demands of the striking miners. We don’t want the Stalinist bureaucrats to be replaced by capitalists. Our program is a real program of socialist revolution opposed to the bourgeoisification program, the careful bourgeoisification program of Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s program tends to introduce the system of exploitation of the workers through hiring and firing, through capitalist methods. This capitalist program can lead to a bloody revolt among the masses. Our program is the program of real socialist renewal.

We are very hopeful for a successful program of a real socialist transformation of the country because the majority of the workers in our country are in a real sense, hired laborers and are exploited. Our program is close to their needs.

We look at the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as a very amorphous party. It’s not communist or socialist in any sense of the word. It is divided into two distinct groupings: the party apparatus of real privileged bureaucrats, and the rank-and-file members, many of whom represent all different sorts of views. Some, a lot of them, are apolitical, but a lot have some socialist or communist or liberal democratic leanings. The party apparatus has a policy of slow bourgeoisification of the country, of the reintroduction of capitalist methods. The party apparatus has a policy of introduction of capitalist measures. But the majority of the rank and file are against these kinds of capitalist measures and their consequences.

Sergei: Ivan spoke very well about our program and our statement, our world view, and our view on the political situation.

I want to give you some picture of the moods and feelings among the student youth. Youth are the most oppressed section of our society. You cannot call it apolitical. I would rather say that they are very easily influenced by some new movements and trends. Youth are very easily aroused, but not necessarily by political movements or trends. It can be sports, musical or cultural groups. They form informal organizations, volunteer organizations very quickly.

Youth have a real quick reaction to influences. They can very quickly take hold of an idea. They can very quickly start working on this idea. They’re not some sort of amorphous, inert group. In fact, they’re very quick to react. They’re very quick to form their opinions and to act on them.

Our movement of the New Socialists is very small and very new and not very many people know about it yet. I could show my program to my friends, but a lot of people don’t know about the program and don’t know about solutions. Instead, they’re under the influence of all sorts of petty-bourgeois and other kinds of tendencies. For instance, one debilitating problem we have is the problem of alcohol among the youth. I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday, and I asked him, “Well, what’s your opinion on the political situation? What would you think of a social democrat coming to power in our country?” and he answered me that he really doesn’t care about who is in power. He doesn’t mind even if it were a fascist, as long as he has some sausage in his home.

I think that compared to the USA, we have a lot more chances to attract people, to attract the youth because here, if you publish a newspaper, if you publish a magazine, people reach for it. People really want to find out and really want to learn more about it, and we have a lot of possibilities in this movement of New Socialists.

In order to combat these influences, we need to expose the essence of Stalinism in its changing format, in its changing appearance. And as David said at his meeting, we need to explain the essence of Gorbachev’s policy and his policy as introducing capitalist measures, leading to the restoration of capitalism.

DN: I’d like to ask you a number of questions. To what extent are young people familiar with the historical struggles which arose within the Bolshevik Party after 1917? That is, specifically to what extent are they aware of the struggle waged by Trotsky against Stalinism?

Sergei: Our understanding, the understanding among the youth, is very poor, very low because all our history texts are still explained in a very Stalinist format. They only devote a couple of dozen pages to that whole period of intraparty struggle and they explain it in a very Stalinist way, cosmetically changing a few things, cosmetically adding a few facts, but basically from a very Stalinist, bureaucratic standpoint

Ivan: They have a history course in the first year of the university, History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The way the picture is presented, it used to be presented in Stalin’s time that Stalin did everything. He organized the revolution, he led the party, he did everything. After his death especially afterwards, it changed and then Lenin was emphasized in everything. Everything was done by him, and at his instigation and his initiative. In the last period, they started also to emphasize Bukharin’s contributions, and Bukharin’s petty-bourgeois policies are now cited as examples. He’s being given a more leading central role in the development, but nothing is said about Trotsky. The few things that Tass mentions, for instance, the Brest-Litovsk peace, he’s always presented in a negative light. To the theory of permanent revolution, they say that it would have led to very harsh consequences for us.

Basically, everything is presented as if we have socialism, as if this is the socialist system, and among the student youth, this is the view given. We in the New Socialists are determined to fight against this misconception and really expose the falsity of the system and the falsehoods of the ruling apparatus, and go after the truth, learn the truth and to explain the truth to the workers and to the young people and the students.

DN: How much do you know, or, say, the politically conscious youth, about the developments in the international working class?

Ivan: We have very limited possibilities for learning about that. You always have to search, you always have to find things on your own, and your level of knowledge really depends on what you can discover for yourself. The ruling circles are disinterested in giving youth this knowledge. In fact, just the opposite. They’re interested in not spreading it, and the youth not knowing about it.

The only thing that they hear about on TV or in the press are the strikes that go on, the strikes in South Africa, or the strikes in the railroads of Britain, or the strikes of the auto workers in France. They hear about those things, but they more or less hear about these primitive things. They don’t really know about the deeper political struggles.

When I spoke before about the arising of the strike committees and how they are an immature form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, I meant this. These strike committees managed the whole life of the cities during the strike. They organized the distribution of supplies, they organized the discipline in the streets, the conditions of life, the conditions in the streets, and all the major utilities and all the services were kept organized by the strike committees.

However, the problem arose when the demands were satisfied, these strike committees kind of dissolved and stood back. I think that when the workers’ consciousness develops further and they can use these strike committees as the basis for a real restoration of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and even this will be a transitional form to the real taking of power back by the workers. And also the dictatorship of the proletariat under conditions when the proletariat is the majority of the population, it means real democracy. This is what democracy really means.

Sergei: The strike committees are turning into an intermediate form of organization of workers. It’s also possible to say that their organization and this form of dictatorship of the proletariat can be seen as a form of democracy. It falls within the understanding of what democracy is, within the bounds of democracy. And as soon as workers learn how to run production and take power, take the factories out of the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy or the capitalists and run them through their strike committees, through their organs of power, they will cease being proletarians and will become free toilers. They will abolish this system of exploitation.

I should point out that the terminology of the dictatorship of the proletariat was very narrowed and dirtied and sullied up by the Stalin and Brezhnev clique. And a lot of members of the Moscow Committee of New Socialists, although in agreement with the strike committees in Prokopyevsk and other places, are verbally in principle against the dictatorship of the proletariat DN: Is it the workers or the Committee of New Socialists that is against the dictatorship of proletariat term?

Ivan: The fact is it is the Moscow Committee of New Socialists that although in practice it supports the strike committees and wants to help them along, in principle it rejects the dictatorship of the proletariat. And in this respect, I want to talk about the leaflet that they had on October 4.

This leaflet was put out on October 4. It explained about the demonstration that took place on October 3 organized by the United Front of Toilers and by the official trade unions. This front of toilers is an organization set up from above to give support to the present leadership, the Gorbachev leadership.

We have correctly criticized this movement, which proposes to set up elections according to industries and enterprises as prolonging and giving support to this administrative system of rule, that it helps the administration to promote its control over production and also Article 6 of the constitution, which supports the leading role of the Communist Party. We’ve criticized that as well.

We have criticized this United Front of Toilers for putting forth the idea that the dictatorship of the proletariat can somehow be preserved through this industrial organization of voting.

I only accept this term, the dictatorship of the proletariat, with the following restrictions; that the proletariat is seen in its wider sense, as composing all the toiling masses, and this becomes now a democratic dictatorship, and also that it is possible to build socialism as the end result of it fairly quickly, and also that you don’t shoot all the capitalists right off. It’s not a bloody dictatorship. And I’m confident that these strike committees, with the support from wide masses, can become the basis for a real socialist and soviet, a real workers’ democracy.