- Created: Monday, 30 July 2018 14:53
- Written by FRFI
FRFI 103 October/November 1991
The August 1991 counter-revolution in the USSR was a massive blow to the international working class and to the vast majority of humanity. Only hardened anti-Soviet dogmatists and middle-class intellectuals of the imperialist countries, living in affluent conditions afforded them by imperialist plunder of the Third World, could argue otherwise. The collapse of the socialist bloc, for the time being, leaves the imperialist economic and political system without rivals, all the more able to subjugate challenges to its aggressive and expansionist drives.
Far from moderating imperialism's predatory character, the collapse of the socialist bloc has removed all constraints on its drive to carve up and divide the world. The danger of war now looms larger as three powerful capitalist economic blocs – USA, Japan and German-led Europe – compete for the spoils of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. As the crisis of the capitalist world intensifies these major world powers will seek once again to divide and redivide the world according to the balance of economic power. Unless imperialism is destroyed humanity will be threatened with a new imperialist war.
The counter-revolution is a calamity for the Soviet people. Its consequences are terrifying, and promise in the words of Russian socialist Boris Kagarlitsky ‘a new Brazil just waiting to be Latin Americanised’. Whilst a small minority will prosper, millions will be driven into destitution. Malnutrition, unemployment, homelessness and social deprivation will become rampant as the gains of the October Revolution are rapidly dismantled. The disintegration of the Soviet Union heralds a return to vicious and bloody national conflict and a resurgence of Great Russian chauvinism, reactionary nationalism, racism and anti-semitism. Only hardened reactionaries could welcome this counter-revolution.
Internationally the collapse of the Soviet Union leaves all socialist, progressive and anti-imperialist movements vulnerable. Despite its problems, the Soviet Union was a force for democracy and freedom. It defeated fascism and Hitler. Without it the revolutions in China, Korea, Vietnam and Cuba would not have survived for so long. Without it the liberation struggles in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America would have paid an immeasurably higher price.
As Alexander Cockburn, an honest voice opposing ingrained Western mendacity, so rightly remarks: ‘Without the Soviet Union, just such a relatively independent country as India could have taken instead, the course of fascist Argentina ... It was communists who spearheaded the fight for civil rights in the United States in the 1930s, and without the threat of the Soviet model for the Third World, the US probably would not even have bothered to desegregate the army after the war ... There would never have been International Brigades ... to defend the young [Spanish] republic against Franco, fascism and the complicity of the Western powers.’ (New Statesman, 30 August 1991.) As Cockburn says, you can write your own list.
The collapse of Soviet socialism
The imperialists and their social democratic allies are celebrating what they regard as the demise of communism. Their celebrations are premature. Unlike capitalism, whose foundations go back many centuries, socialism is in its infancy. Marx and Engels initially envisaged socialism being built on the basis of the most advanced economic achievements of capitalism. Historical developments, and in particular the transformation of capitalism into imperialism, dictated otherwise. The world's first socialist state was established a mere 74 years ago and in a backward semi-feudal country with a tiny working class. From its inception it was encircled by economically more powerful enemies and received little of the expected support from the mass working class movements in the imperialist countries. Lenin’s hopes of building and consolidating Russian socialism in alliance with victorious revolutions in Western Europe floundered on the national chauvinism and backwardness of the organised working class movements in the more developed capitalist countries. As Rosa Luxemburg succinctly argued:
‘All of us are subject to the laws of history, and it is only internationally that the socialist order of society can be realised. The Bolsheviks have shown that they are capable of everything that a genuine revolutionary party can contribute within the limits of historical possibilities. They are not supposed to perform miracles. For a model and faultless proletarian revolution in an isolated land, exhausted by world war, strangled by imperialism, betrayed by the international proletariat, would be a miracle.’ (The Russian Revolution, 1918.)
In these circumstances, the Bolsheviks had no choice. Against enormous odds they had to hold on to political power and take the first tentative steps to build socialism. The alternative was handing over Russian workers and the oppressed peasantry to the merciless revenge of a bloody counter-revolution. Yet today such a surrender would have been, it seems, the preferred option of middle class socialist intellectuals who have rediscovered the renegade Kautsky.
During the struggle for survival, the revolution was forced to retreat. It was to face foreign military intervention, civil war, world war and relentless imperialist economic and political aggression. Inevitably, this took its toll on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. As the revolutionary impetus dwindled the Party lost its connection with the masses, time serving careerists replaced revolutionaries and privilege replaced sacrifice and eventually communism lapsed into social democracy.
In these conditions the Communist Party could not tackle, let alone solve, the critical questions of the relationship between the Party, the working class and democracy; between the centralised economic plan, the market and socialist democracy; and between the defence of Soviet power and proletarian internationalism. But new revolutionaries following the path that the Bolsheviks dared to tread, are learning and will continue to learn from the lessons of this historical experience, enriching it through their own struggle to build socialism. Real revolutionaries follow the traditions of Marx and Engels. After the bloody defeat of the Paris Commune they did not condemn them for daring to seize power. Rather they drew the lessons of that experience for future generations who would follow the same courageous path in attempting to build a just and humane society.
One critical lesson to be learnt is argued in Che Guevara's study of Soviet economic planning. Che rejected the view that economic planning could be separated from the production and reproduction of communist social relations and consciousness. The planned economy and socialism would develop successfully only if it ran parallel with the development of a new communist social consciousness. The latter does not arise automatically, it flows from the ideological and political work of a communist leadership.
Such leadership had long ceased to exist in the Soviet Union. The consequence was an attempt to solve the crisis of the Soviet economy by capitalist methods. Hence perestroika, the resort to so-called ‘market socialism’, the law of value, competition, market forces, material incentives and private enterprise. These created the conditions for producing and reproducing capitalist social relations in the Soviet Union. The resistance to this by the working class and sections of the nomenklatura led to a paralysis and subsequent catastrophic collapse of the Soviet economy. Pro-capitalist forces supported by sections of the Party and the privileged stratum of professionals, managers and intellectuals now recognised that the old state had to be destroyed as a condition for the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union. The coup created the opportunity for this to be done. Yeltsin and his followers seized the opportunity presented by the staggering incompetence of the 19 August coup leaders to take state power – the counter-revolution was underway. He was assured of the backing of the main imperialist powers.
The British left and the counter-revolution
With few exceptions (eg, The Leninist), the British left joined in the imperialist celebrations of the counter-revolution. How could Militant tell us that ‘workers around the world are cheering’? How could Socialist Worker not only support the Yeltsin counter-revolution but, staggeringly, celebrate ‘the destruction of the statues of Marx and Lenin – those symbols of oppression for millions of workers’? (Socialist Worker 7 September 1991). How is it that the once staunchly pro-soviet CPGB praises Yeltsin's ‘courage’ in carrying out the counter-revolution? To understand this we have to understand the relationship that these organisations have to social democracy and imperialism.
Social democracy is the product of imperialism. Its social base is the privileged layers of the working class. These privileges arise from the sustained prosperity of the major capitalist nations, a prosperity dependent on the super-exploitation of oppressed nations. Social democracy’s opposition to the Soviet Union rested on the Soviet Union’s fundamental break with imperialism. By removing whole areas of the world from the sphere of imperialist exploitation and profit making the mere existence of the USSR made it an intractable enemy of social democracy. The post-war boom created a new privileged strata of predominantly educated and salaried white collar workers in the imperialist nations. Their privileges rested on the continuation of imperialism. The British left draws its membership primarily from these strata. This explains its unbreakable bond with social democracy and its refusal consistently to oppose imperialism. This is why the Trotskyists and the ‘Stalinists’ can end up on the same side supporting Yeltsin’s counter-revolution. The Trotskyists’ hatred for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and their opportunist ties to social democracy blinded them to the USSR’s essentially anti-imperialist character. It forced them, at all critical turning points, into the imperialist camp.
The ‘Stalinists’ pro-Sovietism on the other hand, was always of a formal character retaining as it did unbreakable ties to social democracy since the 1930s. Indeed, recent evidence shows that even Stalin criticised the CPGB for its unprincipled support for the Labour Party in its draft programme The British Road To Socialism. Its opportunism, as always, arose not through its relationship to the Soviet Communist Party, but from its close bonds with social democracy. Parallel with its abandonment of any links with the communist tradition, the CPGB abandoned even a formal pro-Soviet stand and degenerated into a support group for Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party. British Trotskyism and ‘Stalinism’ are mirror images – anti-Soviet and pro-Soviet left wing covers for social democracy. The collapse of the CPSU, ending an era of world politics, has forced these trends to expose their real character – has forced them into the counter-revolutionary, pro-imperialist camp.
Uphold the banner of communism
Capitalism is incapable of solving the vast problems of poverty, inequality and economic under-development confronting the overwhelming majority of humanity. Neoliberal solutions – privatisation and the free reign of market forces – have already created a catastrophe for the peoples of the Third World. They now threaten the same for the working class of the former socialist camp. In the imperialist countries unemployment, poverty and homelessness is growing. The class struggle must therefore continue.
Despite the huge setbacks and demoralisation of recent years, communists have a duty to work towards the reconstitution of a genuine non-sectarian communist movement. Such a movement will be internationalist, anti-imperialist and will break with the reactionary traditions of social democracy. The Revolutionary Communist Group calls on all those – organisations and individuals – who have opposed the counter-revolution in the socialist bloc to come together to discuss the formation of a new communist movement in Britain. Such a movement is necessary as part of an international process of studying, learning and acting upon the lessons of the socialist experience since 1917. There can be little justification in the present critical period for socialists of different political trends refusing to unite around a common internationalist, anti-imperialist platform.
Their first task must be to act in defence of the beleaguered Cuban revolution. With the collapse of the USSR, the imperialists are concentrating all their efforts to bring down the Cuban revolution. Cuba’s stand against imperialism is an inspiration to all those fighting for freedom, democracy and social justice throughout the world. It shows that socialism offers a solution to problems of poverty, inequality and economic underdevelopment which afflict the majority of humanity. That is why the imperialists are determined to destroy it. We must be determined to defend it.