The following report was given by Workers League National Secretary David North to the opening session of the Workers League Fifteenth National Congress on August 29, 1991. (The Workers League is the forerunner of the Socialist Equality Party in the United States.)
Comrades, we should first take special note of the fact that this Fifteenth Congress is being held on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Workers League. The Workers League was founded as a sympathizing section of the International Committee in November 1966. The founding congress was the outcome of the struggle waged by a small group of Trotskyists inside the Socialist Workers Party who opposed its capitulation to Pabloite opportunism and its betrayal of the revolutionary program of the Fourth International. Working in solidarity with and under the leadership of the International Committee, these Trotskyists opposed the reunification of the Socialist Workers Party with the United Secretariat of Mandel and Pablo. Following the SWP’s desertion of the International Committee and its reunification with the Pabloites, the American supporters of the IC continued to fight to return the SWP to the program of Marxism. But when the LSSP, the Ceylonese party affiliated with the Pabloite international, joined the bourgeois coalition government of Madam Bandaranaike, the ICFI faction insisted on a discussion inside the SWP of this monstrous and unprecedented betrayal—the first time a party claiming to be Trotskyist had entered a bourgeois government. The Socialist Workers Party refused to permit any discussion of the political crime committed by its political allies in Ceylon and expelled the supporters of the International Committee.
These nine supporters of the International Committee then formed the American Committee for the Fourth International. Two more years of political struggle and clarification were necessary before it was possible to found the Workers League as a Trotskyist party working in political solidarity with the International Committee. But those two years were of immense importance. During that period of clarification, the cadre of the American Committee assimilated the lessons of the International Committee’s long struggle, dating back to 1953, against Pabloite opportunism. Moreover, the fight against the Spartacist tendency of Robertson laid the foundation for a decisive break with petty-bourgeois American radicalism.
The development of the Workers League over the last quarter century has demonstrated the strength of the political foundations upon which the Workers League is based. This party is profoundly rooted in the historical traditions of the Marxist movement. Its guiding principle has been the same proletarian internationalism which inspired the October Revolution in 1917, the founding of the Third International in 1919, the founding of the Left Opposition in 1923 and the founding of the Fourth International in 1938.
All the vast political and theoretical capital accumulated in the course of the long and difficult struggle waged by the Fourth International against Stalinism and all the other opportunist and centrist agencies of imperialism within the international workers movement is present in the history of the Workers League. It is the basis upon which the Workers League has conducted the fight for revolutionary consciousness in the American working class. From the start the Workers League has always known that a revolutionary party could be built only as an integral and inseparable component of an international revolutionary party. That, and our unshakable confidence in the revolutionary role of the American working class as part of an international working class, has always distinguished the Workers League from the innumerable varieties of petty-bourgeois American radicalism. Therefore, we have always rejected all theories of “American exceptionalism” which, in one form or another, promote the reactionary conception that Marxism is not relevant to the United States and that the socialist revolution will never be realized in this country.
We have always studied the development of the working class within the framework of the world development of capitalism and the international class struggle. Indeed, this international orientation has been the basic source of the strength of this party over the past quarter century.
It is entirely fitting and appropriate that this anniversary congress is being held beneath the shadow of historic events which completely vindicate the historical principles upon which the Workers League and the International Committee of the Fourth International have been based. In 1966, when the Workers League was founded with only nine members, the Stalinist parties in the Soviet Union and the rest of the world claimed tens of millions of members. But today one would be hard pressed to find nine people in Moscow willing to identify themselves as Stalinists.
The rapid collapse of the Stalinist coup and its explosive aftermath is a critical turning point in world history and in the development of the international working class. The principal task before this congress is to provide a preliminary analysis of the events now unfolding in the Soviet Union and their political implications for the international working class.
The coup brought to a head the protracted political crisis of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. The rise to power of Gorbachev and the launching of his perestroika and glasnost program were, in the first instance, the response of the most astute sections of the Stalinist bureaucracy to a political and economic situation which they recognized to be desperate. The “reforms” initiated by Andropov after the death of Brezhnev were the actions of a bureaucratic clique which sensed that its rule rested upon an extremely precarious foundation. The events in Poland between 1980 and 1982 had exposed the potential vulnerability and isolation of the Kremlin oligarchy in the face of a popular movement by the working class.
Andropov was in power for too short a time to develop his reform program, which was largely limited to feeble actions against the most notorious examples of corruption in the decadent Brezhnev regime and to arrogant and ineffectual calls for “discipline” in the workplace. After Andropov’s death in February 1984, Chernenko was chosen as a figure-head ruler while the different factions inside the bureaucracy jockeyed for position. But finally, the internal dispute within the most powerful sections of the bureaucracy was resolved with the selection of Mikhail Gorbachev. It is significant that among the most decisive votes cast for Gorbachev was that of one of Stalin’s old proteges, Andrei Gromyko.
Upon his ascension to power in March 1985, Gorbachev launched his programs of perestroika and glasnost, whose essential aims were the broadening of the social base of the bureaucratic regime and the strengthening of the economic foundations of the privileges of the bureaucracy against the revolutionary movement of the working class. Gorbachev saw the possibility of establishing an alliance between the Kremlin and disaffected and dissatisfied sections of the Soviet middle class on the basis of a program which promoted the development of capitalist property and encouraged the accumulation of personal wealth.
Gorbachev sought to cultivate the active support of the broad layers of alienated intellectuals within the academic institutions and among the myriad categories of professionals—engineers, doctors and agronomists—as well as artists, journalists, and the inevitable and innumerable black marketeers, etc. Glasnost was intended to create the necessary political environment for the development of an alliance between the most powerful sections of the Stalinist bureaucracy and this broad and extremely influential social strata.
It is not possible to state with absolute precision the extent to which Gorbachev was himself fully conscious of the consequences of his policy. It is probable that Gorbachev foresaw very little; for he is guided largely by pragmatic instincts which react to the pressure of day-to-day events. But his instincts are those of a bureaucratic caste which fears and hates the Soviet working class, and whose social outlook is permeated with middle class philistinism and selfish egotism. Regardless of the exact degree of consciousness with which he embarked upon his program, Gorbachev’s perestroika articulated, in the final analysis, the organic tendency of the Stalinist bureaucracy toward the restoration of capitalist property in the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev himself led the charge with his denunciations of “wage leveling,” his paeans to the glories of private ownership of land, his effusive praise of the NEP and the teachings of Bukharin, that is, the Right Opposition which had existed in the Soviet Union in the 1920s.
There is an old adage that a bad regime places itself in the greatest danger at the point that it attempts to reform itself. This has certainly been the case for the Stalinist regime. Eventually, its foundations were undermined by the very policies which it had initiated. The bureaucracy had launched perestroika with the expectation that it could retain political control over the movement toward market economics, and thereby guarantee that it would reap the greatest benefits.
But the astonishingly rapid growth of a new entrepreneurial class frightened certain sections of the bureaucracy, who feared that they were being pushed aside in the frantic carve-up of the assets of the Soviet state that developed in the aftermath of 1985. As they acquired greater confidence and wealth, the new Soviet compradors did not want to accept a subordinate position to the Stalinist apparatus and the restrictions which it placed on their own economic development. These compradors and entrepreneurs, accumulating their dirty fortunes in murky activities which would be defined as criminal in most capitalist countries, have developed a position independent of the old Stalinist apparatus in the state-controlled industries. With the collapse of the monopoly of foreign trade and the destruction of the old levers of central planning, the emerging Soviet bourgeoisie has established its own economic links within the USSR and with foreign capital.
The very “success” of perestroika’s efforts to transform what had previously been a criminal black market underground into the new axis of Soviet economic life deepened the crisis of the Stalinist regime. A struggle broke out between the Stalinist apparatus and the emerging bourgeoisie over who was to control the assets of the Soviet state—especially those juicy morsels that will eventually be privatized and auctioned off to international imperialist interests.
This conflict over control of state property necessarily deepened the divisions within the bureaucracy. Naturally, those on the lower end of the bureaucratic totem pole, whose privileges depend entirely on the parasitic relation of the state and party apparatus to the nationalized property, fear the consequences of privatization—especially if implemented without their control—and have demanded a return to traditional Stalinist policy. However, they are a relatively insignificant force. Far more powerful are those within the upper echelons of the bureaucracy who are engaged in a furious struggle to secure their future on the basis of capitalism. Gorbachev has led that section of the bureaucracy which has sought to keep the transition to capitalism in the hands of the traditional mechanisms of the Stalinist apparatus. However, the growing strength of the bourgeois-comprador elements has provoked defections from the Stalinists. Thus, when Boris Yeltsin suffered a setback on the Politburo in 1987—an event that would have proved politically, if not physically, fatal in the past—he could find a new base for political activity as a representative of the emerging Soviet bourgeoisie. In that sense, Yeltsin’s career represents the shifting class relations within the Soviet Union. The transformation of a provincial Stalinist thug—a longtime petty operative in Brezhnev’s machine—into a leader of aspiring Soviet capitalists was a very natural evolution which did not require the slightest change in Yeltsin’s political or moral values. Since then, many aspiring Stalinists have chosen the same road, including many who were only recently in Gorbachev’s entourage.
However bitter the fight between different strata in the Stalinist bureaucracy, this has never been a conflict over whether to restore capitalism, but over how it is to be done, who is to control this process and who is to benefit in the final analysis.
It might be said, without exaggeration, that the fight between the Stalinist apparatus, led on the one hand by Gorbachev, and the rising Soviet compradors, led by Yeltsin, is a struggle between two rival mafias struggling over the control of turf and state assets.
As the leader of the restorationist faction of the official Communist Party apparatus, Gorbachev sought to preserve its alliance with the emerging Soviet bourgeoisie—if only because he feared that if these two basic forces of capitalist restoration broke apart and split, neither would be strong enough on their own to confront the social movement of the working class. Indeed, Gorbachev’s greatest concern, especially since the eruption of the miners strike of the summer of 1989, has been that the turn toward capitalism would provoke an explosive and uncontrollable reaction from the working class. But his attempt to straddle different factions and different interests moving in the direction of capitalist restoration made him appear indecisive and led him to antagonize both his own supporters in the apparatus, as well as the emerging Soviet compradors.
In the pursuit of its goal of restoring capitalism, one of the principal aims of perestroika was the physical smashing up of all the mechanisms which regulated the operation of the state economy. To the extent that Gorbachev and his advisers had any specific program of practical measures, it was uniformly directed toward destroying all the essential links upon which the system of production and distribution depended. The gigantic wrecking operation, in which virtually the entire Soviet elite happily participated, was aimed at convincing millions that there existed no alternative to the crisis except one based on the capitalist market.
Only in this destructive and really criminal aspect of his program did Gorbachev realize any real success. But the collapse of the economy also narrowed Gorbachev’s political options. During the past year, this conflict between the bureaucratic-restorationist and bourgeois-comprador forces became exceptionally bitter and led finally to the aborted coup a week and a half ago.
Last September, Gorbachev had called upon Shatalin and Yavlinsky, two economists identified with those who were pushing for a radical conversion to a capitalist economy, to draft a program for its implementation. They came up with the “500 day plan,” roughly modelled on Poland’s “shock therapy “ treatment. Gorbachev commissioned the plan, but became frightened that its implementation would provoke massive opposition from within the working class and, therefore, abandoned it. This led to the break with Shevardnadze, who by now was operating in Gorbachev’s government as little more than an employee of Secretary of State James Baker.
Shevardnadze had been slated to become vice president, but after his angry resignation, Gorbachev turned to Yanayev, who spelled out the reason for the rejection of the Shatalin-Yavlinsky plan. “If we were to adopt some kind of shock therapy option for the changeover to a market,” Yanayev said, “this would mean that we would have tens of millions of unemployed in the first year alone. Can we allow ourselves, in our country, to pursue such an irresponsible policy that would bring the emergence of social dynamite in the form of 100 million people, dynamite that could blow up society?”
But even as he made these comments, Yanayev declared that he was by no means opposed to the introduction of a capitalist economy. He only urged, along with Valentine Pavlov, the prime minister, that this had to be done with necessary caution, that is, without provoking uncontrollable revolutionary developments. Their fears were intensified by a growing movement within the Soviet working class. Pavlov had initiated measures which were supposedly to stabilize the ruble. They were taken, of course, at the expense of the working class and the broad mass of the Soviet population. In the early spring of this year, Pavlov implemented a huge wave of price rises.
Let me just indicate to you the extent of price increases which were carried out: meat and meat products, up 200 percent; milk and dairy products, up 130 percent; eggs and egg products, up 100 percent; bread, flour, cereals and pasta, up 200 percent; sugar, up 130 percent; fish products, up 130 percent; salt, up 240 percent; food concentrates, including baby food, up 200 percent; children’s goods, up 135 percent. The wage increases which were legislated at the same time did not even begin to compensate for this rise in prices. The deterioration in the conditions of the working class then led to an explosion of strike activity beginning in March.
Let me read to you a report which appeared in the journal Kommersant, which reflects the views of the Soviet compradors:
At the end of March, about 180 mines and several dozen mine construction administrations and enterprises in the branch were on strike in the country. According to data from the Independent Trade Union of Miners, the number of striking mines is 220, or 37 percent of all the country’s mines, and about 220,000 miners are participating in the strike.
City and regional strike committees are shaping the ideology of the spring strike wave. It is based on economic and political demands: a 100 percent to 150 percent increase in pay, the conclusion of a new wage-rate agreement, and the resignation of the Union government. Observers note that the political demands are paralyzing the progress of talks on economic questions.
Meanwhile, many strike committees believe that since 1989 the workers movement in the USSR has undergone great changes: an increase in the scope of strikes, the appearance of various strike funds, and the experience of defending demands that have been put forth. The Vorkuta city strike committee, for example, now believes that it is totally pointless to put forth economic demands, since their fulfillment is completely dependent on political changes in the country. The chief demand, in their opinion, can be completely unambiguous: the resignation of the Union Supreme Soviet.
The drastic politicization of the miners movement has led to a situation in which the Pavlov government is wavering between using force or compromise to settle the conflict.” The Supreme Soviet discussed and adopted a draft resolution suspending strikes in the coal industry, but it had virtually no effect. Mass demonstrations began in Minsk, which had long been considered a bastion of conservatism. All attention is focused in the bourgeois press on what is taking place among the tops, but at the mass base of society, there has been a growing anger and opposition to the deterioration of social and living conditions within the Soviet Union.
Let me read a report which appeared in the Soviet press on the demonstrations in Minsk:
On April 4 a mighty wave of humanity swept down Minsk’s central avenue, Lenin Prospect. It poured into the vast Lenin Square and approached Government House. Thousands of people left their jobs at enterprises and came to the square in their work clothes. Later they were joined by groups of students from higher educational institutions and vocational-technical schools. I got the same answer from everyone: People are stunned by the new prices; they simply don’t know how they’re going to get along....
What demands were made by the rally’s participants? First, a whole package of economic demands: Raise wages and compensation in proportion to the rise in retail prices, repeal the 5 percent sales tax and reduce the share of profits that enterprises must pay into the state budget by 15 percent.
On April 23, Izvestia carried another report of a strike in Minsk:
The chief demand of Minsk’s striking workers is that an extraordinary session of the Byelorussian parliament be called. Many of the city’s labor collectives have made decisions to this effect. In particular, V. Kozel, chairman of the strike committee at the tractor plant, told me that the overwhelming majority of the workers there support the strike, while the engineering and technical personnel [that is, the higher strata] oppose it. Nevertheless, the tractor plant, that giant of Union industry, is not working today, April 23. Representatives of the automotive plant are participating in the rally. Thousands of workers from the clock and watch factory, the electrical equipment plant, the production-line plant, the Integral Association and others are out on Lenin Square.
I will read another account from Izvestia-.
Unfortunately, everything in our state is interconnected. Last year, 1,800 enterprises in the country went on strike, and 10 million man-days were lost, along with a billion rubles’ worth of production output (not counting the losses suffered in related industries). It turns out that this was only the beginning. The USSR State Statistics Committee has just reported that losses of work time due to strikes in the first quarter of this year totaled 1,169,000 man-days, including 575,000 in Russia and 577,000 in the Ukraine. In January and February the average daily extraction of coal was 2 million tons, but in March it was 200,000 tons less, with direct losses exceeding 6 million tons. In April the situation has grown even worse: In the first half of April, miners in the Kuznetsk Basin fell more than a million tons short in their deliveries of coking coal to the metallurgical industry. The threat of a production shutdown has arisen even at the Kemerovo Coking Plant. Forty-seven of the 76 mines in the basin are still on strike. Altogether, 110-112 out of 494 mines are participating in strikes—that is, approximately one in four. Since the beginning of the strike they have failed to ship 11.6 million tons of coal....
In a hysterical reaction to this militancy of the working class, Prime Minister Pavlov delivered a speech to the Supreme Soviet on April 22, in which he declared:
The idea that one must live within one’s means is as old as the world. But we still haven’t learned this law. Again and again we hear populist demands to raise wages, increase pensions and allowances, and urgently institute new and longer vacations. No one talks about how much this will cost and where to look for the money. They just want to yell as loud as they can: ‘I’m with you, I’m for the people.’ But where will shorter workdays and earlier retirement take us when there are empty shelves in the stores and not enough dairy maids, farm machinery operators and toilers in other key occupations.
Yes, we openly call for a moratorium to be declared on political strikes. Yes, we are decisively opposed to rallies during working hours. We don’t have the money to satisfy all the strike committee’s economic demands at a single stroke, including the demand to maintain the committees at state expense.
These reports provide a picture of the social conflict which has been building up throughout this year. However confused politically, this growing movement of the working class is against the policies of capitalist restoration which are being pursued by all the leading political factions. The only real criticism of Yanayev and Pavlov made by the “radical” proponents of the market has been that they have not been moving toward capitalism as quickly and decisively as they should have. But, in his own defense, Pavlov made it very clear that he did not by any means reject a movement for the restoration of capitalism. He told the Supreme Soviet: “The means of production must, at long last, acquire a real proprietor... the program envisages a set of measures for the destatization and privatization of ownership....”
Then he outlined a plan for capitalist restoration which is remarkably similar to the hypothetical scenario presented by Trotsky 55 years ago in The Revolution Betrayed when he speculated how a transition to capitalism might be effected by the bureaucracy. Pavlov said, “I would say that a campaign must be conducted to convert state enterprises into joint stock companies.” Trotsky uses that very phrase to explain the preliminary form the bureaucracy would utilize in order to carry out a transition to capitalism.
There was an interesting remark made by Pavlov which indicated the extent of his differences with Shatalin and Yavlinsky. He said that one should not “allow ‘dirty,’ dishonestly earned money to be used for buying state property.”
That was a reference to the entrepreneurial competitors of the bureaucracy. But Pavlov certainly had nothing against the bureaucracy using its political control of state property to assemble its own private empire. Wealth “honestly” accumulated by the bureaucrats in this way would, according to Pavlov and Yanayev, be sufficiently “clean.”
There are innumerable reports coming out of the Soviet Union which document how the bureaucrats have been creating their own private empires by seizing control of state property.
The nature of the differences between different pro-capitalist factions can best be gauged by examining how the “enemies” reacted to the social movement of the working class. In the midst of the spring strike wave, Yeltsin, who only a short time before had called for the overthrow of Gorbachev, suddenly met with Gorbachev to work out an “Anti-Crisis Accord” which included an “appeal to miners and all working people to stop economically and politically motivated strikes and to exert themselves to make up for lost time in the future.”
Thus, the moment these competing mafias found themselves under attack from the working class, they would come together and tell the workers that they’re to accept whatever is implemented and they should not press their independent demands. In the aftermath of the “Anti-Crisis Accord,” Gorbachev apparently was won to the position that the only way the Soviet bureaucracy could proceed was by accepting broad elements of the shock therapy programs being elaborated by the political and economic representatives of the Soviet compradors. Once again he called upon Yavlinsky to meet with American economists and draw up plans for the establishment of a capitalist economy in the Soviet Union. This was done prior to the scheduled meeting of the G-7 imperialists.
However, just as that meeting was about to take place, Gorbachev again became concerned over the ramifications of the Yavlinsky program and retreated. He apparently hoped that he could buy some time by going to the G-7 and winning substantial financial support. However, Yavlinsky refused to go with him. Gorbachev went to the G-7 meeting alone, but was offered very little for his troubles—the position of the imperialists being that there would be no significant assistance until Gorbachev demonstrated that he was irrevocably committed to carrying out the shock therapy program being implemented in other Eastern European countries.
By this time, Yeltsin had been elected president of the Russian federation. The political conflict between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the comprador bourgeoisie took the form of a direct struggle between the Russian federation and the Union government. It was, in a sense, a sort of dual power situation. Gorbachev had power in the Union government whose resources were increasingly limited, while Yeltsin was using the apparatus of the Russian federation to systematically push the Stalinists out of positions of authority. Much of this took place within the framework of the discussions around the new Union treaty, whose essential aim was not to grant self-determination to anyone, but to break the control by the Stalinists’ center over the assets of the republics.
Upon examining the events leading up to the August 19 coup, one has the impression that two coups were being prepared: the coup of Yanayev and Pavlov and Yazov, old-line Stalinists, and the coup of the Soviet compradors. The measures taken by Yeltsin—throwing the Stalinists out of the factories, undermining their political positions—had certain characteristics of a political coup. One also has the impression that the warnings by the Yeltsin faction about an impending Stalinist coup were a smokescreen for their own preparations.
At any rate, the Stalinists were acting out of desperation when they attempted their coup. Its limited aims were demonstrated by the measures they actually took. The main aim of Yanayev, Pavlov and the others was to merely strengthen their position against their comprador rivals, rather than actually to destroy them. It was little more than an attempt by the Stalinists to compel the comprador bourgeoisie to accept the leading position of the Stalinist bureaucracy. But they lacked any really clear or coherent aims and had no viable program. Thus, it is not surprising that the coup rapidly collapsed.
But I think it should be stressed, and this is stated in the assessment by the International Committee, that any attempt to claim that the coup collapsed because there existed broad support for either Gorbachev or Yeltsin is a complete fraud. There was virtually no mass response to Yeltsin’s appeal for support for a general strike, and there was even less interest among the masses in the political fate of Mikhail Gorbachev.
I’d like to read a letter which we received from Kiev only shortly before the coup broke out, which gives some sense of the feelings which existed among broad sections of the working class in August. This letter was actually dated July 25.
I am very interested in your interpretation of the sickness-inducing processes which had become so typical for the USSR and which characterize the extreme level of degradation of its anti-people upper levels of power:
1. How can you evaluate the activity of the president of the USSR, M.S. Gorbachev who for a long time proclaimed in his speeches that there will be no rise in prices for commonly used foodstuffs such as bread, milk, sugar, vegetables, meat, fruits, grains, butter, since about half the population of the USSR is now living at the edge of poverty and is barely eking out an existence almost without the use in its diet of vegetables and fruits, suffering from vitamin deficiency, and if there is to be a rise in prices, then he will consult with people before it. But since April 2, 1991 he announced sharply increased prices for everything by 3 1/2 times, while adding to the subsistence level of 120-140 rubles only 60-65 rubles and proclaiming that this is the supposed compensation connected to the rise in prices by 85 percent, when for instance at a market in Moscow one kilogram of meat costs 40-50 rubles, one kilogram of grapes—40 rubles.
Had M.S. Gorbachev ever been to a market and had he bought foodstuffs there, as a regular working person in the USSR does, and could he live with his family on the now established pension or stipend minimum of 120-155 rubles? He is living on a complete state subsidy, as if under Communism, when for him everything is free—food products, and also ecologically clean, delicacies that are not seen for tens of years by Soviet common folk. He has under his control numerous dachas, palaces, and other homes with numerous servants, that is not experienced even by the US President Bush and by others. Such pigging out by those in power never existed under V.I. Lenin!
This communist polish of life for the nomenclatured tops of the USSR began with Stalin and became especially well developed during Brezhnev’s time and his successors! The people are starving, while the anti-people tops of the USSR, with Gorbachev at the head, are feasting, and don’t even think about not receiving a monthly income that exceeds 10 or 100 times that of a worker or a collective farmer!
What is this communist party of the USSR, headed by Gorbachev, when for instance the members of the Politburo of the CC of the CPSU immediately receive luxurious flats in the center of Moscow, while a simple Communist with a miserable wage must wait 10, perhaps 20 years, for it, when at the Moscow meat factory until now there is a special shop working for the Politburo of the CC of the CPSU and its related entities, which produces five to seven tons a day of selected goods from meat of extraordinary quality, while the children of workers and collective farmers during their whole lifetime have never even tasted let alone seen lean and sirloin sausages, pastrami, fish, liver, sprats or condensed milk?
Doesn’t it appear that the tops of the CPSU are composed of parasitic elements, which live in heaven because of the exploitation of rank-and-file Communists, workers and peasants of the USSR?
Has Gorbachev asked for permission to build his next (either fifth or sixth?) luxury dacha in the Crimea, in the Baltics and now in the Caucasus, spending on them millions in hard currency and fully weighted rubles, so needed now for the country, while there is such a huge budget deficit in the USSR and there isn’t always a possibility to pay each month the miserable pensions and wages for workers and peasants? Does he do it because of his love for his insatiable wife Raisa, neglecting the whole people, or does he himself want to bathe in the riches and the gold, living a day at a time, and afterwards, the country and the people can go to the dogs because of the ever growing ecological, economical, financial catastrophes?
2. How does the world public opinion view the Soviet diplomat L.A. Voronin, who is working now in Brussels, or M.S. Shakabardnya, who is working in Istanbul, since before that they held responsible posts in the USSR Council of Ministers, where they showed themselves to be totally amoral, acted autocratically and unlawfully—knowingly submitted to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR false information, illegally sold expensive furnished government dachas for pennies, while they cost many millions of rubles on the black market, they sold forest materials, building materials, etc. to important people and so on? (Materials of the commission on privileges and perquisites of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, published in the article by S. Kiseliov ‘Civil Vacationers’ in the newspaper Komsomol Banner for 13.7.91.)
Who from the top level of power in the USSR neglected to submit evidence about these violators to the court, but hid it and sent them off as diplomats abroad? Wasn’t it Gorbachev, so beloved by Bush and Thatcher? And who gave to such eminent corrupters of the USSR as the first secretary of the regional committee of the CPSU of the Krasnodar region Myedunov and to the member of the Politburo of the CC of the CPSU Aliyev, luxurious apartments in the building of the CC of the CPSU, situated in the center of Moscow, and also provided them with high pensions, dachas, free cars with drivers, although for numerous and highly dangerous social crimes they should have been tried? Does it all happen, as also the frightening and bloody events in Georgia, Lithuania and other regions of the USSR, without the agreement of the President of the USSR Gorbachev?
This letter expresses the social tensions in the Soviet Union. It reflects the plebeian and socialist hatred of the masses for the corrupt parasites who run the Soviet Union, and for the new bourgeoisie which is rapidly growing and seeking to seize hold of the assets of the USSR in the interests of really a very small layer of the population.
The coup collapsed and we have seen in the last few days the attempts of Yeltsin and his comprador friends to gain the political and economic fruits of this victory. What is it that they’re trying to do? They do not want to destroy the bureaucracy because they need its apparatus of repression; rather, they want to subordinate this bureaucracy to a new ruling class in much the same way that state bureaucracies are subordinated to ruling classes in so-called civilized capitalist countries.
Every bourgeois state requires the service of a bureaucracy, which administers the repressive apparatus of the ruling class. In a capitalist country, the bureaucracy serves the bourgeoisie and is subordinated to it. This is what the aspiring Soviet bourgeoisie wants to achieve. But it faces immense problems which have been indicated by the crisis which has erupted around the precipitous disintegration of the Soviet Union and the declaration of independence of a whole series of republics.
Even as the Yeltsin group seeks to implement its program of capitalist restoration, proclaiming that revolution was a terrible mistake, the historical necessity of October is again becoming clear. When Yeltsin proclaims that Russia is the natural leader of the Soviet Union and talks about acquiring territory that has been wrongfully taken from the Russian federation, he is making it very clear that there is no possibility of maintaining either the unity of the Soviet Union or realizing the self-determination of the Soviet nationalities on a capitalist foundation. What the Russian bourgeoisie could not achieve in the way of democratic measures in 1917, it certainly cannot achieve today. In the developing conflicts among the nationalities, the reactionary role of the striving compradors is being utterly exposed. Far from creating a political foundation for the development of capitalism, the emerging Soviet and Russian bourgeoisie is setting the stage for civil war.
The question, of course, which concerns us is “What next?” What is the perspective for the Soviet working class in the aftermath of these events? In the immediate aftermath of the coup, those who are benefiting politically and economically are not the working class, but rather the comprador mafia. The working class in the Soviet Union faces the same dangers which confront the working class in Eastern Europe. Nowhere in Eastern Europe has the working class reaped any benefit from the overthrow of the hated Stalinist regimes. Rather in each and every case, it is those elements that strive to restore capitalism who have taken the initiative.
But the critical questions remain: Can the process of capitalist restoration be carried out rapidly and smoothly? Does the victory of Yeltsin in any way initiate a period of political stability based on capitalist policies? Has the working class itself suffered a major defeat?
If we consider these events against the backdrop of the developing class struggle, we must answer as follows: in the aftermath of the defeat of the coup, there will be a rapid development of the conflict between the Soviet working class and the Yeltsin-Gorbachev regime, which rests upon the Soviet compradors, the hordes of self-seeking petty bourgeois chasing after their stupid illusions, and the remnants of the disoriented and decomposing bureaucracy. Yeltsin may well be the man of the hour, but how many more hours does he actually have left? The social base upon which he rests is both narrow and unstable. Moreover, up until now, the Soviet compradors have concealed their program by mouthing vague democratic generalities and appealing to the popular hatred of the Stalinist parasites.
But now their real program will come into the open. Those who are drafting Yeltsin’s program intend to create conditions for the Soviet masses that are far worse than what they know today.
The New York Times said quite frankly: “When stores and factories close, tens of millions would, at least temporarily, lose their jobs.” All the bourgeois press takes it as a matter of course that there will be mass unemployment and that there will probably be mass starvation. They blithely assume this will be accepted for the sake of “democracy.” But we do not accept this prognosis. The great mass of Soviet people are not going to accept their own impoverishment and reduction to beggars’ levels so that a handful of privileged elements among the intelligentsia, the black marketeers and clever apparatchiks can prosper.
After all, despite all the crimes of Stalinism, the class-conscious sections of Soviet workers cannot forget or lightly dismiss the colossal social and cultural achievements of the October Revolution. The petty-bourgeois intellectual “democrat” finds it quite easy to dismiss the October Revolution with a wave of his hand. The ex-Stalinist academic who for years faithfully toed the party line and never forgot to include in his lectures and monographs a flattering reference to the party chieftains finds it convenient to forget the past. But it is different for the workers. For the masses, the past is embodied in the social conquests of the last 75 years. It lives in their memories of the struggles and sacrifices of their parents and grandparents. They are not prepared to accept that all their achievements count for nothing, or that the 27 million who lost their lives in the Second World War in the struggle against fascism died in vain.
But this is the position of those who now claim that October 1917 was a terrible mistake, and who assert that the revolution created nothing worth defending. Of course, much of this is being said by those who worked for years within the Stalinist apparatus and held powerful positions within the Communist Party.
There is no doubt that the danger of capitalist restoration is very great. And this danger cannot be overcome without the development of a conscious leadership within the working class. All the experiences of the twentieth century and especially those of the last two years have demonstrated that in the absence of a revolutionary leadership, the collapse of Stalinism leads not to the political revolution and the assumption of power by the working class, but to the restoration of capitalism.
However, while we recognize this danger and oppose unconditionally the program of Yeltsin and those who presently lead the USSR and the Russian federation, our attitude to the coup is unequivocal: We opposed it and we welcome its collapse. The Political Committee of the Workers League held a special session on Monday, August 19, several hours after we first received the news of the attempted coup. At that point, the outcome of the coup was still unclear. But there was no doubt about our position: We were for the defeat of this coup. We rejected any suggestion that this was undertaken by Yanayev, Pavlov, Yazov and the others in order to defend the property relations established on the basis of the October Revolution. We rejected the completely hypocritical claims made by the leaders of the coup that they were acting in the interests of the Soviet people. We noted that the first statement made by the leaders of the coup included a demand for an end to all strikes. Moreover, the coup leaders offered special assurances to the leaders of world imperialism that they would continue the policies pursued by Gorbachev.
Regardless of what the leaders of the coup said, the most fundamental question was this: whatever remained of the October Revolution, the basic conquests of the October Revolution in the forms of property—these could not be defended through a coup led by any section of the Stalinist bureaucracy.
Let us contrast the position of the Workers League and the International Committee of the Fourth International to that advanced by the opportunist political tendency which publishes Workers World. In a statement issued on August 21, it declared: “Workers World Party’s position on the events of the past several days is based on our opposition to the policies of Gorbachev-Yeltsin and the narrow pro-capitalist grouping in the Soviet Union. While withholding full comment on the program and methods of the State Committee for State of Emergency, we hail the removal of Gorbachev from power and express our hope that this change will bring a halt to counterrevolution.”
The basic lie of the Marcyites is that the coup led by the Committee of Eight was in defense of nationalized property and against those who were seeking to restore capitalism. This is a fraud. There were absolutely no fundamental differences on questions of program between those who led the coup and Yeltsin. Their differences were of a tactical character. The Yanayev group wanted to keep the process of capitalist restoration under the control of the bureaucracy and maintain a dominant position over the emerging comprador bourgeoisie, thereby guaranteeing that it would profit the most from the transition to capitalism. That was its only fundamental difference with Yeltsin.
Even if we were inclined to accept the “sincerity” of Yanayev and Pavlov, it would still have been completely unprincipled to identify the “defense of socialism” with a military-police conspiracy. What was the outcome of Jaruzelski’s coup in 1981? The only thing guaranteed by the coup of Jaruzelski was the suppression of the working class and the creation of even more favorable conditions for the imperialists to take control of Poland. Far from saving Polish “socialism,” the coup of Jaruzelski led inexorably to the creation of the right-wing pro-capitalist government which is now carrying out the brutal policies of shock therapy. More recently, we have had the experience of Tiananmen Square. That massacre temporarily strengthened the hand of the bureaucracy, which has since then continued to impose pro-market policies which have led to a further deterioration in the position of the Chinese masses.
The aim of the coup was not to defend the masses but to suppress them. Significantly, among those who were sympathetic to Yanayev and Pavlov was the Soyuz Group led by Col.
Alksnis, who is a self-proclaimed admirer of Pinochet. He has said many times that the transformation of the Soviet economy along capitalist lines is only possible with a strong military-style government. In one of his recent interviews, he praised the role played by the American military occupation in the postwar revival of the Japanese economy. He has also spoken highly of the role played by the juntas in Chile and South Korea.
In considering our attitude to the coup, there are profound historical questions involved. Yes, we are concerned with defending the conquests of the October Revolution. But how do we defend these conquests? With what methods? On the basis of what social forces? Should we entrust this defense to the Stalinists and the military-police apparatus?
Trotsky gave his most profound answer to this question in the closing months of his life. He wrote:
We are not a government party; we are the party of irreconcilable revolutionary opposition, not only in capitalist countries but also in the USSR. Our tasks, among them the ‘defense of the USSR,’ we realize not through the medium of bourgeois governments and not even through the government of the USSR, but exclusively through the education of the masses through agitation, through explaining to the workers what they should defend and what they should overthrow. Such a ‘defense’ cannot give immediate miraculous results. But we do not pretend to be miracle workers. As things stand, we are a revolutionary minority. Our work must be directed so that the workers on whom we have influence should correctly appraise events, not permit themselves to be caught unawares, and prepare the general sentiments of their own class for the revolutionary solution of the tasks confronting us.
The defense of the USSR coincides for us with the preparation of world revolution. Only those methods are permissible which do not conflict with the interests of the revolution. The defense of the USSR is related to the world socialist revolution as a tactical task is related to a strategic one. A tactic is subordinated to a strategic goal and in no case can be in contradiction to the latter.
That is our approach. The defense of the property relations in the USSR is the task of the working class. We do not assign this task to any other force. We do not assign this task to the Stalinists, to the KGB, to any section of the bureaucracy.
Had we endorsed the coup on the grounds that its success would at least delay the restoration of capitalism, it would have been an unpardonable betrayal of the historical interests of the working class. To advise the advanced workers to place even the slightest confidence in the Stalinist military would have been to sow the greatest confusion among the proletarian vanguard. It would have represented a complete abandonment of the perspective of proletarian revolution. If the Soviet working class is to preserve what still remains of the property relations created in the aftermath of October 1917, it must fight itself for them on the basis of its own program. It must not under any conditions entrust that fight to other social forces. Thus, our response to the coup was to call for the independent mobilization of the working class against the bureaucracy as well as the comprador elements represented by the so-called democratic parties and Yeltsin.
These events have the greatest historic significance for our movement. The whole period in which Stalinism dominated the international workers movement has come to an end. All the lies and fictions with which it has been identified are being blown to pieces. But these developments signify not the downfall of Marxism, but its greatest vindication.
Now there is no shortage of ex-Stalinists proclaiming the “failure” of Marxism. They became convinced of its failure the moment it ceased to offer them the possibility of material advantages. I read today that Alexander Yakovlev, who has been a longtime theoretician of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, recently declared upon his repudiation of Marxism: “In the past two years I began to read and study again, and I found that not one of the predictions of Marx and Engels had come true.”
Really, Mr. Yakovlev? Would it be impolite to wonder aloud whether his recent intellectual revolution is motivated purely by the love of truth? Are there, perhaps, motivations that are somewhat less noble? Or would it be inappropriate to point out that Mr. Yakovlev, who spent nearly a half century as a Stalinist functionary, has never been a Marxist? At any rate, it would be interesting to find out what Mr. Yakovlev has been reading and to what predictions he is referring.
He should have the courtesy to tell us what he’s been reading. For our part, we would be more than willing to draw up a rather substantial reading list which would demonstrate that the most important predictions of Marx and Engels have been largely vindicated. But even more to the point is that the predictions made by Marxists in the course of the twentieth century—especially by those Marxists persecuted and even murdered by Mr. Yakovlev’s party—have been completely realized.
Must we remind Mr. Yakovlev that it was the Left Opposition, founded by Leon Trotsky in 1923, which first condemned the growth of bureaucratism in the USSR and warned that it threatened the destruction of Soviet democracy? Or that as early as 1924, warned that the program of “socialism in one country,” advanced by Stalin and Bukharin, could only lead the Soviet Union to disaster? Does Mr. Yakovlev not know that it was the unshakeable conviction of Leon Trotsky that without the extension of the social revolution beyond the borders of the Soviet Union, the workers state would be destroyed?
Before his assassination in 1940, Trotsky also made a number of predictions about the fate of Stalinism. He insisted that the laws of history are not only more powerful than the most powerful general secretary, they are more powerful than the bureaucratic apparatus as a whole. At a time when the Stalinist parties embraced millions of members, Trotsky predicted that of these reactionary organizations “not one stone would be left upon another.” He made these predictions, we might remind Mr. Yakovlev, with the aid of the Marxist method, at a time when the Stalinist bureaucracy stood at the height of its power and international prestige. He didn’t have to wait, like Mr. Yakovlev, until the entire rotten edifice was crumbling down upon the wooden heads of the Stalinist leadership.
The events which have taken place are the most profound vindication of the program and perspective of the Fourth International. It is a vindication of the principled struggle which our movement has waged against Stalinism. Therefore, we must not forget today, at this congress, to pay tribute to the countless thousands who gave their lives in the struggle against Stalinism, who were murdered in the cellars in Lubyanka, fought Stalinism on the basis of the traditions of the October Revolution, but who never capitulated to imperialism, and who retained at all times their faith and confidence in the role of the revolutionary working class. They are the revolutionary examples from whom the rising generation of Soviet workers should draw their inspiration. On this occasion, let us bring to the attention of miners in Vorkuta that thousands of Trotskyists died in the Arctic wastelands, were shot there, precisely because of their intransigent opposition to the betrayals and crimes of the Soviet bureaucracy.
Now all of these historical facts will be brought into the light of day. It will not be possible to prevent the Soviet working class from becoming acquainted with this great revolutionary history and tradition. Already we receive many reports of the growing influence of Trotsky’s ideas among the most advanced layers of the Soviet people.
It is not only the Fourth International’s fight against the Stalinist bureaucracy which has been vindicated, but also the struggle which it waged against all those who capitulated to the strength, power and influence of the bureaucracy. The International Committee itself was founded in 1953 on the basis of an uncompromising fight against those opportunist elements within the Fourth International, led by Pablo and Mandel, that Stalinism still had a positive historical role to play. The International Committee was formed to fight this opportunist revision of Trotsky’s analysis of the counterrevolutionary role of Stalinism. It rejected Mandel’s assorted theories of bureaucratic self-reform, as well as his claims that the so-called deformed workers states in Eastern Europe represented a genuine and viable path toward socialism in the modem era. We fought against those who claimed that the impulse for socialism would come, not from the working class, but from the bureaucracy.
While the revisionists were adapting themselves to the power of the Stalinists and working out sophisticated apologias for the Soviet bureaucracy, the International Committee was fighting to establish within the working class the understanding of the utterly counterrevolutionary role of this bureaucracy. We continuously warned that if the working class did not overthrow the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy would in the end destroy the workers state. That fight and the positions for which we fought has been vindicated. Let us remember that it was not very long ago that the International Committee was denounced by that belated recruit to the theories of Pablo and Mandel, Michael Banda, for insisting that Stalinism was leading inexorably in the direction of capitalist restoration. Permit me to cite the unforgettable statement made by Banda just five years ago:
This brings me to the severest indictment of Trotsky’s claim to be a dialectical materialist. It is expressed explicitly in the title of the third section of the chapter ‘Social Relations in the Soviet Union,’ which reads, ‘The Question of the Character of the Soviet Union Not Yet Decided by History. ‘ This in my opinion constitutes a fundamental revision of dialectical materialism, in particular the law of transformation of quantity into quality and the development of the lower into the higher. Trotsky here implicitly rejects the conception that the October Revolution was not an accident but a lawfully determined moment....
I must confess that I have found it very difficult during the past week to restrain myself from calling Banda up and reminding him of this immortal passage. He also wrote: “If restoration didn’t exist it would be absolutely necessary for Trotsky to invent it. The whole of Soviet history during and after Stalin testifies against this infantile leftist speculation and points in the opposite direction. Despite enormous difficulties, setbacks, contradictions, crimes and excesses, the Soviet working class and the new post-revolutionary aristocracy of labor which governed the country and administered the planned economy fought unsparingly to prevent any restoration of capitalism and to develop and expand the nationalized property. There was and is no prospect of the Soviet aristocracy of labor transforming itself into a capitalist class, nor is there the slightest possibility of new laws of property inheritance coming into force.”
Just one more quote from Banda: “If there was truth in Trotsky’s prognosis then he would have been absolutely justified in calling for the political revolution led by a new party, the Fourth International, to prevent capitalist restoration, but this is certainly not the trend in the USSR, China, Yugoslavia or Indochina. This is precisely why the long awaited political revolution in the USSR has not materialized and will never do so.”
Such fantastic foresight! There was a real prophet!
This was the perspective upon which Slaughter and Banda carried out their split from the International Committee. But we opposed this line and exposed its political bankruptcy because we have based ourselves on the scientific analysis developed by Trotsky and defended by the International Committee against the Pabloite impostors. This whole struggle has now been vindicated in the most powerful possible way.
Now what are the tasks of the ICFI and the Soviet working class? We do not for a moment underestimate or dismiss the great dangers which confront the Soviet working class. Our task is not to try to find some sort of silver lining in these events in order to artificially pump up the morale of our members. Our members don’t need their morale pumped up, for we have never linked the fate of socialism to the successes of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. The morale of a Marxist draws its strength from scientific objectivity. Our task is to make an objective analysis of events. We don’t sit and complain that history has dealt us a bad set of cards. We have never felt that history owes us or anyone else a living.
But we entirely reject with contempt the panic and despair of the petty-bourgeois radicals. In analyzing the present situation, we do not surrender the conquests of scientific thought. This remains the epoch of social revolution. Our perspective has never been built on the viability of the Stalinist program of “socialism in one country.” We have never believed that the fate of the international working class can be defended with such a perspective.
In the face of these extreme dangers, it is our task to work out our assessment, our prognosis and our program. The dangers are great, but the historical issue is by no means decided. Struggle will decide whether the fall of Stalinism leads to the restoration of capitalism or the revival of Soviet democracy, based on genuine organs of Workers power, and a new gigantic advance toward socialism.
The working class of the Soviet Union has not, by any means, undergone a decisive defeat. In fact, conditions are emerging very rapidly for a powerful offensive by the Soviet working class. But our greatest task is to overcome the enormous gap which now exists between the objective crisis and its revolutionary possibilities and the subjective consciousness of the Soviet working class.
We make a clear appeal to the Soviet masses to defend its jobs and living standards. In our program we call on workers to seize control of the factories, to establish democratically-controlled workers committees and councils on a factory-wide, citywide, regional and all-union basis to organize and coordinate production and the distribution of goods. Only through this action by the working class can the threat of catastrophe be averted. Workers should assume control of state property—which they themselves created—and decide how it is to be utilized. To the extent that limited privatization can be utilized to assist the task of economic reconstruction, it should be carefully controlled and supervised by democratic workers councils. The workers must prevent the lawless and uncontrolled sell-off of state property. A genuine inventory of the assets of the USSR must be drawn up. The secret reserves of the bureaucracy must be uncovered and controlled. Workers committees and councils must take immediate control of the resorts, housing complexes, medical facilities, etc., which have up until now been the exclusive preserve of the bureaucracy. All of these resources and facilities should be placed at the disposal of the people to alleviate, to the greatest extent possible, the severe social crisis.
At the same time, we advise Soviet workers to demand the complete dismantling of all the remaining elements of the Stalinist apparatus of repression, the KGB, the military, and replace them with democratically-controlled workers militias. It would be a tragic error to assume that these organs of terror have been rendered impotent or to believe that the replacement of the old Stalinist officials with pro-Yeltsin “democrats” changes the reactionary and repressive character of these state agencies. The Soviet state long ago ceased to play the role assigned to it by the October Revolution. It degenerated into an instrument of unbridled totalitarian violence, serving the interests of a privileged bureaucratic clique. Now the embittered remnants of that bureaucracy, in alliance with the ravenous compradors, will seek to refurbish that state and utilize it as the sword of capitalist restoration.
As an essential element of the struggle to destroy all that remains of Stalinism, we call upon Soviet workers to demand the full exposure of all the crimes of the GPU-NKVD-KGB. All the material relating to the Moscow Trials must be published. Workers should demand the identification all those, dead and alive, who were involved in the prosecution and execution of the victims of Stalin’s purges. The families of all those who suffered at the hands of the Stalinist police must receive appropriate compensation. Everything must be done to restore these martyrs to their appropriate place in Soviet history.
Further, we call upon Soviet workers and socialist intellectuals to demand the opening of the archives relating to the assassination of Leon Trotsky and all other martyrs of the Fourth International, such as Lev Sedov, Rudolf Klement, Ignace Reiss and Erwin Wolf. And we demand the identification of all the agents who were working, either in the past or present, inside the Fourth International and its sections. The International Committee calls upon Soviet workers and socialist intellectuals to support its right to undertake a direct examination of the files of the KGB to expose the full record of Stalinist provocations against the world Trotskyist movement.
We warn Soviet workers not to place the slightest political confidence in any of the bourgeois-comprador “democratic” parties and their leaders. The existing Supreme Soviet has been little more than a pseudo-parliamentary cover for the struggle between the bureaucracy and the compradors for the control of state property. The present political leaders of the emerging Soviet bourgeoisie are nothing more than corrupt, hypocritical and cynical scoundrels. They shamelessly toady to imperialist gangsters like Bush and Thatcher who are hated by the workers in their own countries. Their plans for capitalist restoration are based on greed, ignorance and illusions. In the nineteenth century, the Russian intelligentsia turned its face toward the oppressed masses and sought to acquaint them with the most advanced products of Western culture. That is how Marxism, under the leadership of the great Plekhanov, first made its way into Russia. But today, a lumpen-intelligentsia grouped around Yeltsin finds its inspiration in all that is socially backward and retrograde in Western capitalist society. They are totally disinterested in and indifferent to the increasingly desperate conditions of workers in the advanced capitalist countries. For them, capitalism is represented by the luxury condominiums of Manhattan’s Park Avenue—not the poverty-stricken slums of Detroit, Chicago, Brooklyn and Los Angeles. They take no notice of the fact that America has the largest prison population in the world, that 30 percent of its population is illiterate, and that workers are virtually defenseless against the economic power of the gigantic multinational corporations.
And if they are indifferent to the plight of the workers in the “advanced” countries, they evince an attitude bordering on criminal to the suffering of the masses in the underdeveloped semi-colonies of imperialism, where millions starve to death each year. The Foreign Ministry of the Soviet Union has been transformed into a branch office of the US State Department. A quarter of a million Iraqi people lost their lives thanks to the support given to the United States by Gorbachev, Shevardnadze, Primakov, Kozyrev and Bessmertnykh.
No Soviet worker should be taken in by the claim that the policies of the democrats will lead to the creation of a bourgeois democracy in Russia. Far from it. The ongoing experiment in creating a bourgeois democracy in the USSR will be even less successful than it was at the beginning of the century. Compared to the Gorbachevs, Popovs, Sobchaks, Stankevichs, and Yeltsins, the old bourgeois Cadets were real heroes. They, at least, were a genuine expression of the capitalist development of Russia in the early 1900s. However limited their political potential, they reflected, at least until 1905, the development of a progressive social movement against the tsarist autocracy.
The utter hypocrisy of the democratic pretensions of the democrats is exposed by their unconcealed hatred of the working class. Not one of the economic goals of the pro-market democrats can be realized without savagely attacking the social needs and interests of the Soviet workers. The moment their economic program arouses popular opposition, the “democrats” will abandon their democratic masquerade and demand the suppression of the working class.
The genuine democratization of the Soviet Union and the development of the nationalized property along truly socialist lines can be achieved only under the political leadership of the working class. The development of factory committees and workers councils, forged in struggle, provide the basis for a revival of Soviet democracy.
Again, we appeal to Soviet workers: in your anger and rage against the Stalinists, do not fail to make a distinction between the apparatus of repression which arose out of the usurpation of power by the bureaucracy and the nationalized property which constitutes the foundation of all the social conquests of Soviet workers. Ask yourselves: What will happen when these factories are closed down or privatized? What will happen to the educational system, the health care system, the pension system, the vacations, and all the other vital social and cultural foundations of Soviet life?
In no capitalist country do factories play a comparable role in the life of the working class. Soviet workers should look at the conditions which exist in such American cities as Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo, New York, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh where there has been a wave of factory closings. What becomes of the working class? It is terrible enough in the United States, but what will happen in the Soviet Union under conditions where it is these factories which provide workers with food and virtually all the social facilities upon which working class life depends. A real catastrophe would be the outcome. That is why it is necessary for Soviet workers to preserve what they themselves created, while building up the appropriate political forms of working class power, based on their own strength, through which the genuine conquests of the October Revolution can be preserved and the excrescences which arose out of it can be destroyed.
Again, what are the prospects for the survival of the USSR? It would be entirely premature to conclude that the fate of the USSR has been decided and that all is lost. The decisive conflicts still lie ahead. Up until now, the political life of the USSR has been dominated by the conflict between the Stalinist apparatus and the emerging bourgeoisie. Now, it is the conflict with the working class that will come to the fore. The vast strength of the working class in the Soviet Union has not even yet been brought into play. Its capacity for struggle has, as yet, hardly been tested.
The restoration of capitalism cannot be achieved without breaking the resistance of the working class. Recall the assessment made last year by the ICFI:
According to some of the ideologists of perestroika, the triumph of the market in the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism will lead to the flowering of democracy. To the extent that these ideologists actually believe this themselves, the assumption underlying this claim is that the full integration of the Soviet economy into the structures of world capitalism and the denationalization of its industry will produce a significant improvement in the living conditions of the masses. Therefore, the popular resistance to the restoration of capitalism will be relatively insignificant and easily placated or marginalized by the economic advances of a rejuvenated capitalist Russia.
For anyone who attempts to work seriously through political and economic questions, these assumptions are obviously ridiculous. The integration of the Soviet Union into the structure of international capitalism would be—as the experience of Eastern Europe is now demonstrating—at the expense of large sections of its industry. The fundamental problem of the Soviet economy, its inefficiency relative to the advanced capitalist countries, would be resolved in a capitalist Russia through the liquidation of the uncompetitive sectors. The resulting unemployment would be measured in the tens of millions.
Moreover, even those sectors which were not overwhelmed in the initial stages would inevitably require vast infusions of capital in order to function at internationally competitive standards. In the capitalist reorganization of the few viable sections of the Soviet economy, the new Russian bourgeoisie could only be comprador agents of imperialist finance capital as it rapidly assumed control over the Soviet Union.
It is obvious that the reorganization of the Soviet Union along these capitalist lines would entail a counterrevolution of an almost unimaginably violent character. Bluntly stated, capitalist restoration can be achieved only by starving masses of Soviet citizens. To think that a democratic regime can be erected on the basis of such a program is to take leave of one’s senses.
Of course, if workers don’t act, a catastrophe awaits them. This would have far-reaching implications for the international working class. But we don’t base our perspective on the worst variant. We base our perspective on the capacity of the working class to struggle and on a scientific analysis of the ongoing and deepening crisis of the world capitalist order. It is true that a wave of euphoria has swept sections of the bourgeoisie. The editors of the Wall Street Journal, unable to contain themselves, proclaimed that the world is back to where it was in 1914. That reveals the real dream of the bourgeoisie: to recreate a world without the Soviet Union, of the unchallenged hegemony of the imperialist bourgeoisie, where there would be no unions or other independent social and political organizations of the working class, no system of social welfare. In 1914 there were hundreds of millions of colonial slaves who could be slaughtered at will. The world as a whole was a vast arena of unrestrained exploitation and plunder. That’s what they, in their madness, dream of going back to.
But one shouldn’t be misled or unduly impressed by this euphoria. Beyond the Babbitts of Big Business, there are more astute strategists of the bourgeoisie who are deeply troubled by the course of world events. They know that the fact that the Soviet bureaucracy has suffered a massive cardiac arrest does not of itself signify that the American bourgeoisie enjoys the best of health. The more thoughtful ponder the fate of the Stalinist oligarchy and wonder what fate holds in store for them.
Thus, we read the following in the latest issue of World Policy Journal, produced by one of the many Washington think tanks:
Those of us who retain our long-term faith in progress must realize that the potential for global disorder has never been greater than it is today....
In the long run, yes, industrialization and modernization create what is potentially a more peaceful and stable, as well as a more prosperous world. But the road to that world is a long and winding one, and we are still in the initial stages of that journey. Washington’s faith that progress, democracy, and peace march hand in hand will be severely tested in the years ahead. The feckless optimism emanating from Washington indicates a national policy elite that is seriously out of touch with the magnitude of the problems that it faces. Like the British and French leadership in the 1930s, the current US leadership does not imagine that it will be tested by history. In this, as in so much else, Washington is certainly wrong.
The United States seems incapable of creating the kind of world it wants, and at times a consciousness of the weakness of the US international position penetrates Washington’s euphoria. It often seems that, instead of coming together into a new world order, the world economic system is splintering into blocs. US influence appears to be waning in Europe; Japan and East Asia seem to be constructing a new and powerful economic bloc of their own. The United States, like Saul, sits up at night and trembles with fear—of betrayal by its allies, of a failure to meet world standards of competition, of a dark and questionable future of debt, isolation, and impotence” (World Policy Journal, Summer 1991, pp. 406-7).
That is how the American bourgeoisie, or at least its most conscious sections, assesses the present world situation.
At the same time, there is the state of social relations within this country. Others will speak at length on this, but allow me to bring to your attention an item which appeared in the August 28 Washington Post. It cites a new scientific report which traces the high cost of health care in America to the desperate social conditions. It states:
Social pathology, such as the breakdown of the family structure, chronic poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, violence and despair wind up in the emergency room, intensive care units and morgues of our hospitals.... The United States more than any other developed country is paying dearly for its social problems once they become medical problems.
Violence in the United States is far greater, with more than 20,000 homicides annually. US male homicide rate is ten times that of Britain or Germany and four times that of Canada ... one study estimates that there are as many as 100 assaults reported by US emergency rooms for every homicide. At any given time, there are 177,000 people with spinal cord injuries, about 45,000 of which result from assault.
United States has about 375,000 drug-exposed babies. Poverty and drug abuse are associated with low birth weight and the United States more than other countries uses expensive high-technology to keep many low birth weight babies alive.
And this is the society which provides the Soviet compradors with their inspiration.
Comrades, I’d like to bring this report to a conclusion. The events in the Soviet Union have the most far-reaching implications for the Workers League and the International Committee of the Fourth International as a whole. Many years ago, Trotsky wrote that the development of the political revolution in the Soviet Union will have for the Fourth International the same significance as the Russian Revolution had for the Third—that is, it will create conditions for the transformation of a small revolutionary nucleus into a powerful mass party of the international working class.
With the downfall of Stalinism, the syphilis of the world labor movement, a tremendous blow has been dealt to opportunism all over the world. The International Committee anticipated the collapse of the Stalinist bureaucracy and recognized that a new relationship had developed between Trotskyism and the working class. We associated this new relationship with the disintegration of all of the old parties and organizations, based on national reformist programs, which at one time claimed to lead the working class.
The position of Trotskyism has been strengthened not only in the Soviet Union, but also in the advanced centers of imperialism. Now the suggestion has been made that our references to a new relationship between Trotskyism and the working class is unwarranted. It has been suggested rather strongly that we are in danger of turning our backs in a sectarian way on the organized labor movement. I’ll be blunt. We reject that position. Great bureaucracies, wealthy bureaucracies do not a genuine workers movement make. When we, as Marxists, speak of the workers movement, we have something different in mind.
The bureaucracies are a cancer that have been destroying the workers movement in every country. We do not make a fetish of the so-called mass organizations, with their paper membership and their overstaffed and overpaid bureaucrats. These are nothing more than auxiliary agencies of imperialism, self-serving rackets which deduct dues from workers’ paychecks and in return shamelessly betray them. These so-called “organized labor movements” don’t represent the strength of the working class. The AFL-CIO bureaucracy in the United States, like the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, does not represent the workers movement and isn’t part of it, except to the extent that a tumor is part of the organism it’s destroying.
The AFL-CIO, like all the other bureaucracies which exist in this world, is an instrument of imperialism which exists to control and discipline the working class. The development of the workers movement, the creation of a workers movement in the real sense of the word—the development of a workers movement as Marx, Engels and the other great theoreticians of the working class conceived of it—depends upon the development of the Fourth International. We in the Workers League, together with our comrades in the International Committee, must forge and create a new workers movement. That can only be done by the organization of the working class on the basis of a Marxist program. There is no substitute. No clever innovations can replace this basic work. We will not take power through or with the help of bureaucracies. The development of the working class depends upon the destruction, root and branch, of the influence of these old organizations over the working class.
This is the basic difference with Pabloism and all varieties of opportunism. The basic conception of the opportunists which underlay all their exotic revisionist theories was explained by Pablo when he insisted that never again would a mass working class movement coalesce as it did in 1917 around a Marxist cadre. He wrote:
In the present concrete historical conditions the variant which is more and more the least probable is the one where the masses, disillusioned by the reformists and Stalinists, break with their traditional mass organizations to come to polarize themselves around our present nuclei, the latter acting exclusively and essentially in an independent manner, from without.
We reject this demoralized and cowardly position. In fighting to build this party, every cadre must be convinced—deeply convinced—of its historic mission. The real curse of skepticism is that it calls precisely this historic role of the Fourth International into question. At most, it allows that it may be perhaps possible for our movement to influence the larger and apparently more powerful organizations. But that’s not our aim at all. We don’t want to influence them. We aim to mobilize the working class against them.
The AFL-CIO is not the medium through which the great struggles of the working class will develop, no more than the Stalinist bureaucracy provided some sort of alternative route to socialism—and it even held state power. The critical force within the working class is our party and its cadre. All our work must be concentrated on developing our independent influence within the working class. In the course of our work, we will not hesitate to initiate the necessary forms of practice and new forms of organization required by the working class in its struggle against imperialism.
Our movement today plays the most decisive role in the struggles of the working class and its influence is steadily growing. When the Fourth International appraises events today in the Soviet Union, it does not do so as bystanders. We are not simply looking on. We are already an active force in the developments taking place in the Soviet Union. And this is not idle boasting. A number of months ago we wrote a letter to a correspondent in Kirov. And in response to his question about Yeltsin, we provided an evaluation of what Yeltsin represents. It’s printed on pages 148-49 of The Fourth International journal. We wrote: “While Gorbachev is the leader of the bourgeois restoration faction within the bureaucracy, Yeltsin is presently the leader of the emerging Russian comprador bourgeoisie.”
Our correspondent placed this letter in the newspaper of the local soviet. As a result, no less than three consecutive issues of this newspaper have been devoted to a denunciation of this letter. There’s one article published in July 1991 with a number of headlines: “Against the Market—That Means Trotskyists”; “Lenin and Trotsky, Twins”; “Nina Andreyevna and Lev Davidovich”; “The Administrators of City Soviets, Not Agents of Imperialism.” Then they have an interview with a local academician-turned-entrepreneur, Boris Nicholevich. He is asked, “What is your commentary on the material by David North published in Choice No. 24 entitled ‘Gorbachev and Yeltsin, United’?” He then answers:
The letter of the American Trotskyist North is of no small interest insofar as it is an expression typical of the opponents of the market economy. The material shows how great is the muddle in our heads concerning the realities and tendencies in the development of the market. In the first place, it is very strange that Trotskyists, ultrarevolutionaries, advocates of world revolution, should become the authorities for our opponents of the market.
Then this academician proceeds to recite the traditional litany of Stalinist slanders against Trotskyism. Up until recently, this anti-Trotskyist specialist used these slanders in defense of the bureaucracy’s privileges. Now he uses them to defend the interests of aspiring Soviet capitalists. Thus, he refers to Trotskyism as a “misanthropic, cannibalistic ideology,” and, in typical Stalinist fashion, draws an amalgam between Trotsky, Mao and Pol Pot. So this old Stalinist hack—who is now working on the stock exchange in Kirov—is using what he learned among the Stalinists to denounce the Trotskyists.
Clearly the ideas and program of the International Committee and the conceptions of Trotsky are finding a response within the Soviet working class. Otherwise, the bourgeois comprador Soviet wouldn’t feel obliged to devote three issues of its newspaper, including the front-page lead in one of them, to a denunciation of our positions.
Our aim is to build, as part of the International Committee, a Soviet section to fight for our program in the Soviet working class. This independent role is decisive in every country.
Finally, we must stress that the Berlin conference against colonialism and war, in light of the most recent events, assumes enhanced significance. That conference becomes the political and ideological focal point for the entire international working class movement.
This conference must lay down the political and programmatic foundations for the building of the world party of the working class. It is not an appeal to other organizations; it is not an attempt to influence bureaucracies, either to move them to the left, or to unite the centrists. Rather, it will elaborate the historical and programmatic foundations upon which the most advanced layers of the working class must unite and construct genuine revolutionary parties. This conference will define the basic tasks and perspectives of the International Committee as the World Party of Socialist Revolution.
In every country, the old leadership and organizations are thoroughly discredited. Everything depends upon the conviction with which we fight for our program. Who, after the events in the Soviet Union, can still believe in the omnipotence of the reactionary bureaucracies? Yes, the laws of history are more powerful that the apparatuses of even the largest bureaucracies.
The coming struggles of the working class, in the United States and internationally, must be prepared and led by our movement. Those who don’t believe that this is possible, who see only our present small forces, underestimate the political situation and don’t understand at all the dynamics of the present period. The objective situation is inevitably driving the working class here in America, as it is in the Soviet Union, into great class battles. We must be politically prepared and we must prepare the working class. That is the perspective which we wish to bring to this conference.