International Committee of the Fourth International
The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International: Perspectives Resolution of the ICFI

The Soviet Union Today

Rather than a new and climactic stage in a protracted process of bureaucratic self-reform, the policies of perestroika and glasnost, the fool’s gold embraced with such enthusiasm by opportunists all over the world, represent a qualitative deepening of the bureaucracy’s collaboration with imperialism in attacking the international working class and the conquests of the October Revolution within the USSR itself. The strivings of the bureaucratic caste to establish firmer social props for its rule—that is, to transform itself into a genuine ruling class—find their most consistent and conscious expression in the policies pursued by Gorbachev.

Stalinism long ago rejected the program of world revolution. But it found it necessary, for the purpose of deceiving the working class, to maintain the formal identification of the Soviet Union with the struggle against imperialism. Now, seeking to secure closer ties with the international bourgeoisie, Gorbachev has repudiated even this formal connection to the heritage of October. The Twenty-seventh Congress of the CPSU officially renounced the longstanding claim that peaceful coexistence is a “specific form of class struggle” and removed from its program all references which connect the outbreak of war to revolutionary uprisings against imperialism. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze told a conference of foreign policy specialists in July 1988, “The struggle between two opposing systems is no longer a determining tendency of the present era,” and he insisted that the problems of war, ecological disaster and poverty are unrelated to and take precedence over the struggle against capitalism.

In his book Perestroika, Gorbachev proclaims to the world his belief in “the priority of interests common to all humanity over class interests.” This phrase reveals the thoroughly bourgeois outlook which guides the policies of Gorbachev, and expresses the longing of the bureaucracy to liberate itself from the restrictions imposed upon it by the working class. In opposition to the defense of state property, which “merely” represents “class interests,” Gorbachev advocates, in the interest of “all humanity,” the elimination of laws against private property and the personal accumulation of wealth.

For decades, the usurpation of political power by the bureaucracy has served as the bulwark of its privileges. To seriously believe that the bureaucratic usurpers are now relinquishing that power in order to realize true Soviet democracy is to renounce Marxism altogether. The growth of the bureaucracy and its despotism was bound up with the antagonism between social property in the means of production established in the aftermath of October 1917 and bourgeois methods in the distribution of goods produced by state-controlled industry. The peaceful liquidation of bureaucratic despotism would imply that the antagonism had been resolved, i.e., that the development of the productive forces had attained such a high level that inequality had been overcome and that there no longer existed any objective basis for the use of state compulsion for the enforcement of bourgeois methods of distribution. If that were indeed the case, then it would follow that the Stalin-Bukharin theory of “socialism in one country” had been vindicated.

But far from having overcome bourgeois methods of distribution, the Gorbachev leadership is insisting that the “reform” of the Soviet economy requires still greater social inequality. The Soviet proletariat’s devotion to the socialist traditions of 1917 accounts for Gorbachev’s increasingly hysterical denunciations of egalitarian attitudes. In a speech on “revolutionary perestroika” delivered before the central committee of the CPSU on February 18, 1988, Gorbachev warned, “Now one can no longer rely on the state’s ‘charity.’ “ And venting his rage at the workers’ hostility toward the growth of private wealth, Gorbachev declared, “We should get down in real earnest to the problem of eradicating leveling tendencies. This is a highly important social, economic and ideological issue. To all intents and purposes, leveling has a ruinous impact not only on the economy, but also on people’s morality and on their entire way of thinking and activity” (Reprints from the Soviet Press, March 31, 1988).

The significance of Gorbachev’s glasnost cannot be appraised without examining the socioeconomic content of perestroika. Renegades from Marxism, like G. Healy, do not bother themselves with such “details.” But while Healy claims that Gorbachev is leading the “political revolution,” it is evident that the aim of Gorbachev’s bureaucratically stage-managed “democratization” has been to rally support within the most privileged sections of the bureaucracy, intelligentsia and the strata of petty entrepreneurs for an attack on the main social conquests of the working class. One of Gorbachev’s principal economic advisers, Tatiana Zaslavskaia, who makes little attempt to conceal her hatred of the planning principle and the working class, has drawn up extensive lists of social groups that would benefit from the decentralization and denationalization of the Soviet economy. “For success in improving productive relations,” she has written, “it is necessary to have a well-thought-out social strategy, capable, on the one hand, of consolidating groups truly interested in intensification of the economy and a corresponding restructuring of the methods of management; and on the other hand, blocking the actions of groups disposed to impede decisions of the critical questions.”

The term “intensification of the economy” has a definite meaning in Soviet debates: it refers to management methods aimed at increasing productivity through greater “labor discipline,” achieved through stricter management, the legitimization of unemployment, and the encouragement of substantial wage differentials. Another prominent Soviet economist who has Gorbachev’s ear, Vasilii Seliunin, has written: “[In the West] they have unemployment, excess people in the full sense of the word, but on the other hand sweat is extracted from those who have to work. We have forgotten about unemployment, but is it good that we work at times at half strength?” An American bourgeois scholar, who has studied the debates taking place in the Soviet Union, notes that Leonid Albalkin, one of the “radical reformers” whose ideas are being widely circulated in the Soviet press, recently commented “that both feudalism and capitalism had or have distasteful, but nevertheless effective, mechanisms for disciplining labor. It is socialism that has not yet solved the problem of finding an effective, but more humane, form of discipline” (Hewett, Reforming the Soviet Economy [Washington, DC, 19881, pp. 293-94).

“Aside from unemployment,” according to Hewett, “the main issues under discussion are bankruptcy, income inequality, and—a closely related issue—the proper role for private economic activity in a socialist country.” Gorbachev’s policies have established legal foundations for the destruction of the planned economy, the dismantling of huge sections of state industry, and the abolition of the monopoly of foreign trade. At the same time, private ownership of the means of production and the reestablishment of wage labor on a wide scale are being smuggled into the USSR.

The Draft Law on Cooperatives, introduced in March 1988, represents a decisive step in the reemergence of capitalism. The term “cooperatives” is a euphemism for private corporations, and their formation is being encouraged in all sectors of the economy. The draft law pledges to defend the “property interests” of the cooperative owners, declaring that it is “inviolable and enjoys state protection. It is protected by law on a par with state property.” The draft law states that cooperatives “may own buildings, structures, machines, equipment, transportation facilities, productive and draft livestock, end products, monetary resources and other property meeting its purposes.” Moreover, the formation of a cooperative “does not require any special permit from the government, economic or other authorities.”

The law gives to the cooperatives the right to hire workers. As in any capitalist country, the cooperatives “may contract labor, the pay subject to mutual agreement and free from caps.... Working day duration and routine, regular and extra days-off, and other conditions shall be subject to the in-house regulations of the cooperative.” The bureaucracy is planning to create a large supply of unemployed workers who will be compelled to sell their labor to these Soviet corporations through the deliberate bankrupting of vast sections of state industry. The law declares, “State agencies shall establish cooperatives on the basis of small or medium-size manufacturing, agricultural, building and other organizations closed through losses, insolvency, absence of demand.... They may transfer property of the losers to operating or projected cooperatives.” It is not hard to foresee that bureaucrats, recognizing the chance for realizing their personal fortunes (or that of their relatives) through the conversion of the juiciest portions of state industry into cooperatives, will take advantage of this law to obtain control of what had previously been inviolable state property.

The draft law permits the cooperatives to link up with world capitalism, declaring, “Large cooperatives and their alliances which are competitive internationally may be allowed to transact export and import businesses by themselves.... Cooperatives and their alliances may use foreign exchange to import commodities and services to develop production, trade and social amenities.” Further on, it states, “Cooperatives and their alliances shall decide, together with their foreign partners, on the specialization of joint enterprises and the volume and pattern of production, proceeding from demand, prices and other market factors. Joint enterprises may be situated in this country or elsewhere.... Soviet cooperatives and their alliances may participate in the activities of international cooperative organizations.” Finally, the law proclaims, “Citizens’ constitutional right to unite in cooperatives shall be guaranteed by the USSR’s economic system, recognition of the cooperatives’ ownership of the means of production and other statutory property, and state encouragement of cooperatives.”

These developments within the Soviet Union are a confirmation of the scenario envisaged by Trotsky when he discussed the probable forms that the restoration of capitalism would take: “First of all, it would be necessary to create conditions for the development of strong farmers from the weak collective farms, and for converting the strong collectives into producers’ cooperatives of the bourgeois type—into agricultural stock companies. In the sphere of industry, denationalization would begin with light industries and those producing food. The planning principle would be converted for the transitional period into a series of compromises between state power and individual ‘corporations’—potential proprietors, that is, among Soviet captains of industry” (Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed [London: New Park Publications, 19731, p. 253).

Glasnost does not represent a revival of Soviet democracy. It is, rather, directed toward strengthening the bourgeois tendencies in the bureaucracy and Soviet society as a whole, while further weakening the political and social position of the proletariat. Highly significant in this regard is the decision to establish a new governmental structure with a bourgeois-type parliament and Bonapartist-style president. The aim of this “reform” is to liquidate the historical connection between the Soviet state established in October 1917 and the working class. Inasmuch as Gorbachev has declared that these reforms are necessary to carry out perestroika, it is indisputable that the objective sought by the most privileged sections of the bureaucracy is to prevent, as Zaslavskaia urged, any working class obstruction to the growth of capitalist relations and private property. Moreover, the terror machine created by the bureaucracy to protect its monopoly of power remains intact. The powers of the KGB are undiminished and not one of those responsible for the murders of countless thousands of revolutionists has been identified and punished. And the events in Nagorno-Karabakh again demonstrate that any attempt by the Soviet masses to win democratic rights through their own actions is dealt with ruthlessly.

It is not enough for the bureaucracy to create the legal framework for the restoration of private property and the actual reintroduction of capitalism and the transformation of the Soviet proletariat into wage slaves. The realization of its aims requires more than administrative measures. It must crush the deep-rooted resistance of the Soviet working class through the methods of bloody counterrevolution. There have been reports of popular hostility to the economic policies of Gorbachev. Even bourgeois observers are compelled to admit that there is no sign that the Soviet masses anticipate with relish the reintroduction of private ownership of the means of production. Foreign Affairs reported with dismay that there was little popular response to the May 1, 1987 ratification of the law permitting private business. In all of Moscow and Leningrad, only a few dozen individuals took out licenses for the operation of private taxis, and Foreign Affairs sadly acknowledged that “there has been little spontaneous movement toward private enterprise now that it is allowed in the Soviet Union” (Volume 66, No. 3).

As he seeks to implement his reactionary perestroika, Gorbachev implicitly concedes the failure of all the economic premises upon which Stalinism was based, i.e., that socialism could be built in a single country. The very real crisis of the Soviet economy is rooted in its enforced isolation from the resources of the world market and the international division of labor. There are only two ways this crisis can be tackled. The way proposed by Gorbachev involves the dismantling of state industry, the renunciation of the planning principle, and the abandonment of the state monopoly on foreign trade, i.e., the reintegration of the Soviet Union into the structure of world imperialism. The alternative to this reactionary solution requires the smashing of imperialism’s domination over the world economy by linking up the Soviet and international working class in a revolutionary offensive aimed at extending the planned economy into the European, North American and Asian citadels of capitalism.

The irreconcilably antagonistic character of these alternatives reflects the deep-rooted social contradiction between the perspectives of the Stalinist bureaucracy and the historic strivings of the Soviet proletariat. The attacks on the conquests of the October Revolution set the stage for a revolutionary struggle by the working class against the bureaucracy. The recent strikes in Poland and Yugoslavia are only a pale anticipation of what is coming in the USSR. The objective conditions for the revival in the Soviet Union of Bolshevism in its modern-day form, Trotskyism, are at hand.

The International Committee will make use of the opportunities created by the crisis within the bureaucracy, including those provided, however temporarily, by glasnost, for the development of revolutionary work among the Soviet proletariat. But that work must be directed at the development of Marxist consciousness based on the historical lessons of the long struggle against Stalinism. The rehabilitation of the Old Bolsheviks and the repudiation of the Moscow trials does not change the principled attitude of the Fourth International toward the struggle against the Soviet bureaucracy, nor does it change our assessment of the Gorbachev faction. At any rate, the “credit” for these rehabilitations goes not to Gorbachev—who in his speech on the seventieth anniversary of the October Revolution was still praising Stalin’s “contributions” to socialism—but to the Soviet working class, whose defense of the planned economy and devotion to the goal of communism underlies the crisis within the bureaucracy. It is the first responsibility of the International Committee to fight for the political independence of the Soviet working class from all factions within the bureaucracy and to provide it with the banner of the political revolution.