International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International 1991: Oppose imperialist war and colonialism!

Letter from a Soviet youth, and a reply

March 20, 1990

Dear David North!

Please excuse me for such a lengthy delay. For a while, I was, in the language of boxing, in a knockdown. Theoretically, I might have wanted the events to develop this way, but in practice, I was not ready for them. I had a sort of crisis of “inability to understand.” It began quite calmly. First, the Lithuanian CP declared its independence, then the violent reports from Armenia and Azerbaidzhan, then Dushanbe and then, as we call them, “regional revolutions” swept through the whole country. There was a new “uncle” on TV and radio every day explaining events through the prism of his own understanding.

Representatives of various political tendencies expressed themselves either too wisely (vaguely, professorially) or in an extremist manner. I got completely lost and abandoned participation in MCNS. Now after some months, I consider my actions wise, and more importantly, honest. In our country, there is no institution for political education. Professional politicians are not trained anywhere. In parliament, i.e., Supreme Soviet, there are only a few well read, educated people able to see every situation in its development, to understand causes and logical effects. A politician must combine three qualities: to be educated in juridical and economic matters, to know history (not the version we are taught), and, of course, to be honest and uncompromising. When I looked at my own definition of a politician, I felt ashamed for myself (for the system of education too, of course). My own position is also more difficult because I am studying in a technical institute, which in general has no normal humanitarian subjects. I abstain from those that do exist; Marxism-Leninism and philosophy are terribly taught. Just by chance, I bought a brochure by Plekhanov, On the Monist View of History, and a book by Bukharin, Problems of Theory and Practice of Socialism.

It contains his essays and speeches (“World Economy and Imperialism” [1915], Report at the VI Comintern Congress and his concluding speech there [1928], speech at the 1929 Plenum and some other works). I sit and read, but it is quite difficult. I have no basis on which to build. I have become a kind of independent, unknown “politician.” I like to walk alone, wander through the woods and think about the meaning of life and existence, about religion. And the more questions there are, the fewer the answers. For now, I am trying to define myself.

Meanwhile, the nonformals unite against the partocracy. The Moscow demonstrations of February 4 and 25 frightened the Party tops. Hence, even the Central Committee decided to permit other parties. Wow! But while the representatives of the opposition conducted rallies, paraded their forces, I was in a depressed and pessimistic frame of mind. There are very few truly wise, well educated people in these political organizations. I wrote about the lack of venues for political education on purpose. Many of these freshly baked leaders suffer from ignorance. While they are learning, what is to be done? Fascism is arising. While the gangsters from the Pamyat declare themselves, our burghers pretend that all is calm. Now, of course, the society is waking up and during the February 4 rally, people carried banners saying, “No to Russian Fascism,” “Better forgetfulness than such memory (Pamyat).” And as a result, the TV youth programs pay more attention to Zionism, anti-Semitism and Masonry.

As for TV, lately it shows Gorbachev and H. Kohl very frequently. As for the latter, he is shown every day as if he already became the Chancellor of United Europe. One should truthfully admit that his position about the Polish border and the swallowing of East Germany by its powerful neighbor (based on the West German Constitution) is not supported by our observers and journalists.

While our journalists and TV commentators are capable of quick flips, the Nicaraguan elections shocked them. During the final week of the elections, they talked about the massive popular support for Ortega. After the elections, they began to give many reasons why it was not so strong. They made another mistake with the elections in the GDR. They banked on the Social Democrats, but they only had 22 percent. Then they switched the coverage to PDS and its 17 percent, as if it were a big victory, and the picture of Kohl was replaced by smiling Gyse and Modrow. This is how I get the news, sitting by the TV. But back to our country.

My thoughts are directed at Lithuania. The decision of the Lithuanian parliament “on the reconstitution of the Lithuanian state” led to polemics with the All-Union parliament. My dilettante opinion is that Vilnius simply got tired of the Kremlin’s tutelage. Constant incompetent interference. One cannot take a step without Moscow’s permission, and the result if obvious—the Lithuanian Republic, of course, is still not recognized by anyone. Moscow is always too late.

If a year ago a new Union agreement were approved, if the republics were recognized as having full control over domestic affairs, if, if.... A year ago, members of the Politburo could not even imagine such results. The mistake of many politicians here and in the West is that the subconscious dream of every people to live freely and independently they portray as provocation, extremism and nationalism of small gangster groups. Many simply do not understand the situation, its roots. Export of ideology and political system is impossible.

Eastern Europe and Lithuania showed that. David, I would like to address your attention to this vital question. One should not underestimate such an important step by Lithuania. Even the West did not expect this. They support Gorbachev and do not wish to undermine him. Lithuanians are having a hard time now, but soon they will be joined by like-minded forces. The second stage: a similar step by Estonia and Latvia (after the elections). Third step: movement to independence by Georgia and Azerbaidzhan. These are my suppositions, but tomorrow they may become reality. The empire is falling apart.

Only the entry of the army into Baku saved the local Communists from being crushed. Did you notice that I have not mentioned the main arguments for secession? The main trump in the hands of many of our nationalities is their past annexation—Baltic states, West Ukraine, West Byelorussia, Moldavia in 1940, Georgia in 1921. All that became possible as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. There is now needed a procedure for exiting the Union, but of course, not the one forced on by Gorbachev. The occupation of the Baltic was recognized de facto, one should proceed from this.

As a conclusion, I want to say that my inner feelings correspond to those of many people. There is an internal fatigue, a feeling of apathy. I try to be informed, of course. I participate in rallies, but observe people from the outside and analyze. In Moscow, it seems, social democratic and liberal-democratic feelings predominate. But generally there is a fall off in activism, apathy among Muscovites. Many are already tired of this spectacle.

The low turnout at the election is thus understandable, 59 percent, 54 percent or even less. But nevertheless, I think it is a lull before the storm.

With respect and best wishes, A.

P.S. Today I received the Bulletin of the Fourth International. Before, I received David’s book. Many thanks! But please consider the fact that I don’t belong to any organization and for now do not plan to join any.

Reply from David North

Dear Comrade:

Please excuse me for not having replied to your two letters which I read with great interest. I sympathize with your desire to study and think before you commit yourself to political action. You are justifiably critical of the political groups which are active in Moscow.

In the USSR today there are many organizations which lack any serious theoretical, historical and programmatic foundations. This situation is above all the legacy of the totalitarian dictatorship exercised by the Stalinist bureaucracy for decades. In no country in the world has Marxism been so ruthlessly falsified and repressed as in the Soviet Union. For this very reason, the greatest task confronting socialists in the USSR is to re-forge the historical and political links between the working class and its great revolutionary, genuine Bolshevik, traditions. The most terrible lie of all, which we must fight against with all our strength, is that which claims that Stalinism was the product of Marxism and that the crimes of the bureaucracy arose organically and inevitably out of the Bolshevik Revolution.

This lie is exposed above all by the historical record which documents the life-and-death struggle conducted by Marxists against the Stalinist bureaucracy over more than six decades. This struggle began in the final months of Lenin’s active political life (see the documents relating to Lenin’s fight against Stalin over the “Georgian question” and the monopoly of foreign trade dispute) and first assumed a definite organizational form with the establishment of the Left Opposition in the autumn of 1923. The history of Marxism over the last 67 years is the history of the struggle against Stalinism!

An answer to the great problems which confront the working class in the Soviet Union and internationally cannot be found outside of this history. An attempt to create a “new” socialist tendency which dismisses the entire history of the Marxist struggle against Stalinism will come to nothing. It is precisely for this reason that I have a very low opinion of the political ideas and activities of Boris Kagarlitsky. I do not wish to comment on the allegations that have been recently been made against him because I have seen no factual evidence. But I have read his books—most recently, The Dialectics of Change—and they make a very poor impression. To put the matter simply, he is not a Marxist. His writings do not indicate even a trace of systematic thought. Attempting to impress his readers as an erudite man, he refers to or quotes hundreds of books. But all these superfluous citations serve only to underscore the fact that Kagarlitsky is an eclectic who selects ideas like others pick food from a buffet table.

Kagarlitsky’s Dialectics of Change abounds with the type of vulgar commonplaces that generally characterize the writings of petty-bourgeois politicians who possess neither historical perspective nor firm programmatic principles. Like all opportunists, Kagarlitsky claims to be “free from ideological preconceptions”—which means only that he is unaware of the theoretical underpinnings (i.e., pragmatism) of his own thinking.

I do not condemn Kagarlitsky simply because he is not a Trotskyist and an adherent of the Fourth International. However, it is impossible to respect the political and intellectual integrity of a so-called “socialist” in the Soviet Union who simply dismisses Trotsky with a few phrases without even bothering to examine, let alone attempting to refute, the work of this monumental historical figure. What little Kagarlitsky has to say about Trotsky proceeds from an unpleasant mixture of ignorance and dishonesty.

As you know, the writings of Trotsky remain largely unavailable to Soviet intellectuals and workers. The filth of decades of Stalinist lies has not been washed away. For this very reason, those few privileged individuals who, like Kagarlitsky, have had the opportunity to travel extensively in Europe and the United States and obtain Trotskyist literature have an immense political and moral responsibility to present Trotsky’s ideas with scrupulous honesty. But Kagarlitsky quite flagrantly falsifies Trotsky’s views. For example, referring to Trotsky’s writings on Britain, Kagarlitsky states that he “did not come to any serious conclusions.”

This is really astonishing! Every literate Marxist knows that Trotsky’s 1925 pamphlet, Where is Britain Going?, was a withering exposure of Fabian reformism and brilliantly anticipated the eruption of the 1926 General Strike. Even such determined political opponents of Trotsky as George Bernard Shaw paid tribute to Trotsky’s polemical genius and his grasp of British history and politics. Moreover, Trotsky’s writings on Britain in 1925-26 played a major role in the struggle against the growing influence of the Stalinist bureaucracy inside the Third International. It was Trotsky and the Left Opposition who fought against Stalin’s policy of subordinating the young and inexperienced British Communist Party to the leadership of the British trade union bureaucracy. Stalin’s line led directly, as Trotsky had warned, to the defeat of the general strike.

In another passage, Kagarlitsky states that “Trotsky’s theory of ‘permanent revolution’ does not answer the question of socialist tactics in the conditions of Western democracy, but avoids it.” One hardly knows what to make of this criticism. First of all, the theory of permanent revolution elaborates the essential historical and strategical principles of the program of world socialist revolution in the imperialist epoch. It provided the foundation for the development of socialist tactics for the working class movement in both backward and advanced countries. In Trotsky’s “Critique of the Draft Program of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern” (1928), he dealt specifically and at great length with the relation between the strategy of permanent revolution and socialist tactics. (The section of the “Critique” which I have in mind is actually called “Strategy and Tactics in the Imperialist Epoch.”)

In the unlikely event that Kagarlitsky is unaware of this work (which would be hard to believe as it is available in virtually every political bookstore in Britain), he must certainly be familiar with the founding document of the Fourth International, which is known as The Transitional Program. This work deals specifically with “the question of socialist tactics in the conditions of Western democracy.” In this document, Trotsky explains how the socialist movement must establish a practical connection between the daily struggles of the working class and the perspective of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.

It would be naive to believe that Kagarlitsky is simply unfamiliar with these works—though, in politics as in law, ignorance does not relieve the individual of responsibility for his actions. Rather, Kagarlitsky falsifies Trotsky because he is a petty-bourgeois reformist and opponent of Marxism. And for this very reason, he remains ideologically loyal to the basic political conceptions of Stalinism.

The essentially reactionary character of Kagarlitsky’s politics (and its kinship to those of the Stalinist bureaucracy) is exposed by his praise of the program advanced by the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935. Kagarlitsky openly declares that this program “contained a whole series of constructive elements.” He specifically praises the Congress’s endorsement of the class-collaborationist program of the “People’s Front.”

Kagarlitsky fails to mention the well-known fact that the Seventh Congress represented the Comintern’s irrevocable break with the world revolutionary perspective of the October 1917 Revolution, and that it was aimed at reassuring the international bourgeoisie that the Kremlin was an ally upon which imperialism could depend. Nor does Kagarlitsky comment on the horrifying consequences of the “People’s Front” strategy for the international workers’ movement. In practice, the “People’s Front” meant the open defense of bourgeois property by the Stalinist parties. In Spain, this defense led directly to the defeat of the revolution.

The Stalinists subordinated the struggle against Franco to the defense of the liberal-bourgeois government of Azana. The Stalinists furiously opposed all attempts to base the struggle against fascism on a revolutionary socialist program. The expropriation of the Spanish landlords and capitalists in areas controlled by the Republican forces was mercilessly opposed. Thousands of revolutionary working class opponents of the bourgeois government in Madrid were arrested and executed by the Stalinist GPU, whose agents had flooded the country.

There is another fact that Kagarlitsky fails to note: the decisions of the Seventh Congress set the stage for the launching of the Great Terror in the USSR and the elimination of all the surviving leaders of the October Revolution.

Kagarlitsky has no time for the old ideological struggles of the Trotskyists. He is “above” all that. But what tradition does he offer to the working class? He points to Jean Jaures (1859-1914) as the precursor of a “revolutionary reformist” tendency which he wishes to resurrect. By invoking the name of Jaures, Kagarlitsky is simply attempting to lend an aura of historical respectability to the opportunist politics which he espouses today. While Jaures was a man of great intellectual capacities and personal courage, he was, nevertheless, part of a generation of political leaders whose opportunism led to the catastrophic betrayal of August 1914. As is characteristic of Kagarlitsky, he simply ignores the historical connection between the growth of opportunism in the Second International and its political capitulation to imperialism.

Significantly, Kagarlitsky defends the entry of the French opportunist Millerand, a colleague of Jaures, into a bourgeois government in 1899—an action that was condemned by all revolutionary Marxists of the day. Millerand’s action, according to Kagarlitsky, was taken “to promote social reform.” Unfortunately, Kagarlitsky fails to note that the bourgeois government of which Millerand was a member was soon shooting down striking workers.

The key to Kagarlitsky’s political outlook is provided in a passage in which he refers to the entry of the French opportunist Jules Guesde into the bourgeois government after the outbreak of World War I. “Disgracefully,” writes Kagarlitsky, “he did not elicit even minimal concessions in exchange for his treachery.”

Thus, according to Kagarlitsky, Guesde’s “disgrace” was not that he supported the imperialist war and entered the war cabinet of the bourgeoisie, but that he failed to win concessions in return for his treachery! Are we, then, to assume that in his own political activity, Kagarlitsky will betray only when sufficient concessions are offered in exchange for his treachery?

I do not wish to say more about Kagarlitsky here. If and when the opportunity arises, I will deal in another place and at greater length with his politics. But I have made these preliminary observations only to stress with you the vital necessity of initiating within the USSR a serious study of Trotsky’s writings. So-called “New Leftists” who turn their backs on history—i.e., who believe that they can ignore the historical struggle waged by the genuine Bolshevik-Leninists against Stalinism—will contribute nothing of positive and enduring value to the revolutionary rejuvenation of the workers movement in the Soviet Union.

And it is precisely at this moment that such a rejuvenation is of the greatest urgency. The Soviet bureaucracy has brought the USSR to the edge of the abyss. A little more than a year ago, there were still those who challenged the International Committee’s assertion that the Gorbachev regime was carrying out the restoration of capitalism in the USSR. Today, this is a fact recognized all over the world.

In my letter of last February, I warned that the restorationist program of the Soviet bureaucracy would inevitably find its expression in the foreign policy of the USSR. This warning has also been tragically vindicated during the last few weeks. The American intervention in the Middle East is the direct product of the alliance of the Soviet bureaucracy with US imperialism. Without the agreement of the Kremlin, it would not have been possible for the United States to launch its naked aggression against the Arab masses. Nothing could more completely expose the utterly counterrevolutionary character of the Stalinist bureaucracy’s political aspirations than its defense of the territorial integrity of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. From “socialism in one country” (which the Stalinists counterposed to the program of world socialist revolution) the Kremlin has finally arrived at the open defense of semi-feudal regimes which are the legacy of colonial oppression!

Defending their actions, Soviet officials have said that the Kremlin has nothing in common with Iraq and other “Third World countries.” In this way, the Stalinists renounce for all time the historical association of the October Revolution with the struggle of the exploited masses against imperialism. Gorbachev and his ilk are nothing more than contemptible lackeys of imperialism. They bear direct responsibility for the crimes which the United States will carry out against the Arab masses.

For our part, we are presently conducting a resolute campaign in opposition to American banditry in the Middle East. Of course, the Fourth International has no political agreement with the bourgeois regime of Saddam Hussein. Our party vigorously opposed his reactionary war against Iran. But it is a fundamental obligation of the international workers movement to defend an oppressed semi-colonial country (which Iraq is) against the aggression of a ruthless imperialist power. (This is a principle which Lenin explained very well in his pamphlet, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.) Moreover, there exists no reason why the workers movement should lament the annexation of such artificial creations of imperialism as Kuwait or any of the other oil wells in the Gulf region (i.e., Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, etc.) which have been turned into “sovereign countries” by imperialism for the sole purpose of weakening the Arab people and maintaining imperialist domination of valuable oil resources.

The political hypocrisy of the Stalinist regime’s stand in defense of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia is shown by its ruthless hostility to the legitimate national aspirations of the oppressed minorities in the USSR. Against the Georgians, Armenians, Uzbeks and other national minorities, the Kremlin reserves the right to utilize violence.

I must, for reasons of time, bring my letter to a conclusion here. Peter will be able to answer all your questions and explain the events now taking place in Eastern Europe. He can describe in great detail the catastrophic consequences of capitalist restoration in the DDR.

I hope that the opportunity will arise for me to see you in the near future. While I would like to visit the USSR again, perhaps you will be able to travel to Europe and even the United States.

Continue to study and reflect on political problems—but do so in order to prepare yourself for the struggle to build a revolutionary leadership in the working class.

With fraternal greetings,

David North