International Perspectives: Splits in Stalinism

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17/08/2018 by socialistfight

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The open rifts which developed between the different communist parties, culminating in the Sino-Soviet split, signified the fracturing of Stalinism into different ‘national’ Stalinist bureaucracies, all pursuing their own and frequently opposed interests. This, in turn, registered a new stage of crisis for Stalinism, brought to a head by economic crises.

The semi-colonies and ex-colonies, while frequently relying on the rhetoric of Stalinism, ‘non-alignment’, ‘African socialism’, ‘the non-capitalist path of development’ etc) remained completely dominated by imperialism. Over the last decades, under the economic and military ravages of imperialism (collapsing and debt-stricken economies; the imperialist-sponsored terrorist armies of the Contras, UNITA and RENAMO), the Benghazi rebels, the Syrian Jihadists and the Kiev regime after the 2014 Maidan coup. Previously ‘non-aligned’ countries were forced to drop their pretence of being anti-imperialist or pro-socialist.

Now with the disappearance of the Soviet Union as a world rival to imperialist America, the pressures of the variety of radical non-aligned bourgeois nationalist regimes have increased enormously. They can no longer rely on the radical sounding language of Stalinism; material aid has disappeared, and the prospect of military aid is non-existent. The rhetoric of ‘a transition to socialism’ or ‘Marxism-Leninism’ which these regimes used to raise their credibility in the eyes of the masses, has been abandoned. Instead these regimes have been driven to embrace openly the virtues of the ‘market economy’, imperialist investment and the policies of the World Bank and the IMF.

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Stalinism and Soviet defencism in Poland

The Sparticist Family, the ICL/LFI/IBT, (in lockstep with Stalinism), defend the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981 on the basis that Stalinism has a “dual nature”; sometimes it is counter-revolutionary and sometimes it is revolutionary. A “dual nature” of any phenomenon is impossible. We have dual tendencies in dynamic internal conflict within a single phenomenon. It is important to note that when Trotsky did battle with Shachtman and his tendency he laid great emphasis on the central need to study the Marxist dialectic to understand Stalinism; the extract below (and the full document) does this. ICL/Spart leader James Robertson has never portrayed Stalinism in motion and change, as a single phenomenon in internal contradiction in which the bourgeois side was constantly strengthening; for him it is a dead, fixed category in its relationship with imperialism and the world proletariat. Hence its “dual nature”. In 1987 a huge conflict had arisen in the WRP over Gerry Downing’s rejection of the Stalinophobic assertion, that Stalinism was “the most counter-revolutionary force on the planet” as seen in The WRP Explosion on the Socialist Fight website. This is an extract from Gérard Laffont’s reply to Cliff Slaughter in 1987 on Stalinism:

“Trotsky, in fact, never did talk about a ‘dual nature’ of the bureaucracy. The expression is Pabloite. And it corresponds completely to the ‘theory’ in question, especially developed by Mandel…The formulation ‘dual nature’ constitutes a real monstrosity from the point of view of the dialectic. That is why Trotsky never employed it in regard to the bureaucracy, no more than he used it … in regard to the Soviet state …Trotsky speaks of a dual character of the state, of a duality of its functions, but in no way of a ‘dual nature’ of this state. The duality of the character of the Soviet state is effectively determined by the existence of contradictory, counterposed tendencies – bourgeois and socialist – within this state.

“And it is the struggle between these ‘mutually exclusive’ tendencies (and not between two ‘natures’) that determines the physiognomy and the future of the workers’ state … Thus the dual nature of the workers’ state’ – writes Slaughter — ‘is dual precisely in that the working class and the bureaucracy are the proletarian (socialist) and the bourgeois sides of this duality!” Well, no. That is not at all the case. The proletariat constitutes itself as the ruling class through the installation of its dictatorship, which it exercises through a state. The necessity of this state flows from the very necessity for ‘hastening the growth of material power’ (The Revolution Betrayed, 1970 Pathfinder edition, page 54), indispensable for the coming of the socialist society.

“… In given historic conditions, the bureaucracy of the first proletarian state reached such a degree of development, has so strengthened the bourgeois tendencies inherent in this state that, without a new revolutionary leap by the proletariat, this bureaucracy, ‘becoming ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie’ will conclude by overthrowing the new property relations and plunging the country back into capitalism, ‘with a catastrophic decline in production and culture.’

“That is the historic justification of the political revolution. But the task of this revolution – the only one possible and conceivable at this stage of historical development is the regeneration of the workers’ state and in no way its abolition. The working class has to ‘crush the bureaucracy to put it ‘out of condition to do harm’; such are the expressions used by Trotsky.”

 

ScreenHunter_1538 Dec. 14 09.51Slaughtered by Jaruzelski. Walesa was arrested only for show. He was a Stalinist spy in the movement.  Thousands of Solidarity leadership and activists were arrested and imprisoned without court sentence.  Among those arrested was Lech Walesa, the ‘legendary’ Solidarity leader, who later turned out to be the communist collaborator. The WRON, in an obvious public relations stunt, also arrested some prominent figures from the previous government. From the early morning hours the only TV channel and the only radio station transmitted Gen. Jaruzelski’s address to the nation. Journalists wore military uniforms. Only newspapers controlled by the Communist Party or the military were published. The Poles actively resisted the Martial Law by organizing strikes and street marches, but any resistance to the Martial Law was brutally crushed. On December 16, 1981 the police killed 9 striking coal miners at the Wujek Coal Mine in Katowice. The junta suppressed resistance with a determination that cost the lives of more than one hundred people, though the exact number is not known, and by the new year the stunned nation was again under the firm grip of a conventional communist regime.

Trotsky was here predicting that the bureaucracy would become restorationist and quite obviously by 1989-91 the quantitative development of the restorationist wing of the bureaucracy, immensely assisted by the 1981 events in Poland, had become restorationist; they had decided to base themselves on capitalist property relations. The contradictions had become resolved in their minds because of the economic collapse; its privileges had been based on nationalised property relationships up to then, these relationships could no longer guarantee their privileges, so they abandoned them. Stalinism was not a bulwark against imperialist intervention or internal counter-revolution, it was itself an active part of the counter-revolution.

When Trotsky said, “On the other hand, if the dictatorship of the proletariat means anything at all, then it means that the vanguard of the class is armed with the resources of the state in order to repel dangers, including those emanating from the backward layers of the proletariat itself,” he was not proposing that the bureaucracy crush the entire working class, as they did with ICL/IBT support in Poland in 1981.

Walesa opposed the “radicals” in December 1981 because he feared his alliance with the bureaucracy would fail in an uprising. Jaruzelski crushed the workers so that Solidarnosc emerged without a radical base which made restoration almost inevitable in 1989. The working-class inaction in 1989 was largely determined jointly by Walesa and Jaruzelski.

The collapse of the USSR and the deformed workers’ states

The degeneration of the first workers’ state was an expression of its isolation and backwardness in the face of international defeats of the working class. The triumph of the bureaucracy was accompanied by the systematic destruction of the vanguard of the working class through state terror and purges. By thus eliminating its opponents, the bureaucracy was able to assert its relative independence and initiate primitive socialist accumulation through the five-year plans. But the bureaucratically dominated industrialisation programme had tremendous social costs. Bureaucratic planning placed new burdens on the Soviet Union, creating political tensions which were held in check only by police methods and, in spite of the rapid growth of the 1930s, ultimately prepared the ground for capitalist restoration.

Even with the expansion of Stalinism into Eastern Europe after the Second World War, political and economic nationalism remained dominant. Comecon was merely a federation of national bureaucracies, each pursuing separate national roads to socialism. These ‘command economies’ stifled the creativity of the working class. The conscious initiative of the workers was replaced by generalised de-motivation. Bureaucratic planning ignored the needs of the masses, and thus thoroughly alienated them. The planned economies, basing themselves on the Stalinist theory of ‘socialism in one country’, were unable to surpass capitalism in developing the productive forces and technology, and moreover created terrible environmental disasters. The more the Stalinists became empirically aware of the limitations of their own planning methods, the more they turned to market experiments which, in turn, further undermined the planned economies.

These inherent contradictions and blocking of a qualitatively higher development of productive forces were veiled by the fact that post war reconstruction in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe started at a very low level. Subsequently, the Soviet economy gained some benefits from the capitalist post war boom. Higher oil prices made some concessions to the working class possible, in spite of the deep-going stagnation of the economy. But by the end of the boom, Stalinism stood at the edge of an abyss. It could only escape political revolution with the aid of imperialism.

The break-up of the post-war boom signalled by the dollar crisis in 1971, led to a chain of instability and revolutionary upheavals. The quadrupling of oil prices as a result of the Middle East war in 1973, the Watergate crisis (1973-4), the fall of the Heath government in Britain (1974), the collapse of the colonels’ regime in Greece (1974) and of the Franco regime in Spain (1975), the Portuguese revolution and the overthrow of colonialism in Angola and Mozambique (1974-5), the Soweto uprising in South Africa (1976) and the Lebanese civil war signalled a period of acute economic and political crisis.

Stalinism and social democracy rallied to the defence of the bourgeois states in Europe. During that period the Stalinists in the USSR and Eastern Europe still clung to the illusion that they could collaborate with and obtain aid from the imperialists, whilst maintaining the foundations of the workers’ states. The metropolitan capitalist countries weathered the storm and recovered economically, resuming the offensive against the worker’s states and the worker’s movement in the West. With the direct collaboration of the Chinese bureaucracy, imperialism managed to block further revolutionary developments in South-East Asia and extended its military-strategic pressure upon the USSR.

The victory of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas in 1979 threatened US hegemony over Central America, despite the limited assistance given by the deformed workers’ states, including Cuba. Although the Sandinistas armed the people and nationalised important sectors of the economy, their government remained at all times a bourgeois government. Large sections of the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie broke with them, but the Sandinistas never broke with the bourgeoisie. There was no repeat of the ‘Cuban road’, with the ultimate result of a bloodless election victory of Chamorro in 1990.

Faced with continual instability of the Middle East, and particularly with the Iranian revolution, the Soviet bureaucracy moved to secure its sphere of influence by the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The response of the US imperialism was to go onto the offensive in a determined drive to overcome the trauma of Vietnam. Stalinism was to be forced economically to its knees by a combination of escalating the ‘arms race’ and ‘regional confrontation’ (Angola, Nicaragua, Afghanistan). Favourable conditions for the imperialist were created as the bureaucratic worker’s states like many semi-colonial countries fell deeper into the debt trap.

At the same time, Stalinism was confronted at home by the growth of workers’ resistance. The unprecedented scale of the struggle of the Polish working class showed the writing on the wall for international Stalinism. Despite the assistance of social democratic and reactionary clerical forces, it was impossible to control the Polish workers without a military crackdown. This was covertly supported by international finance capital in a ‘historic compromise’, whose ultimate function was to create conditions for capitalist restoration.

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The senile interregnum of the last years of Brezhnev

After the senile interregnum of the last years of Brezhnev and the brief episodes of Chernenko and Andropov, Gorbachev emerged as the new face of the bureaucracy. Perestroika (restructuring) aimed initially at a cautious market-oriented reform intended to relieve the chronic crisis of Soviet economy. Glasnost (openness) was meant to create a political constituency of support among the expanded intelligentsia for the reform programme.

At first, the Gorbachev leadership was able to keep the centrifugal forces which had been unleashed under control because of its monopoly of political power. But, as the economy continued to deteriorate, and with the lessons of Poland in 1980-81 in mind, Gorbachev escalated the turn to the market, to the point where large sections of the bureaucracy openly embraced capitalist restoration. With the command economy tottering, but without a viable capitalism to replace it, the Gorbachev leadership increasingly took on the appearance of someone in the driving seat of a runaway train.

Because of the virtually insoluble problem of creating a national bourgeoisie, and because of the sporadic resistance of workers, the bureaucracy was only able to introduce inconsistent half-measures. Far from reversing ‘the Brezhnev era of stagnation’, perestroika led to ever greater social and economic chaos. The bureaucracy thus further discredited socialism, and its actions fostered the growth of nationalism as well as fascist movements and the Orthodox and Muslim religions.

Of the Eastern European countries, Poland became the model for the first stage of capitalist restoration. When, in 1988, the Walesa leadership was able to contain and stop the spontaneous strike wave, and when Jaruzelski failed to get a popular mandate through a referendum to restore capitalism, the old project of a national alliance based on the Walesa leadership, the Catholic Church and the bureaucracy was revived.

A coalition of all restorationist forces was formed. Poland set the pattern, which was followed with certain variations by Hungary, the GDR (the ‘Round Table’ government led by Modrow), Czechoslovakia, Romania (after the fall of Ceausescu), Bulgaria and even Albania.

The second and more advanced stage of capitalist restoration was the period of the total destruction of the planned economies, widespread privatisation of nationalised property, and the transformation, or rather the destruction, of the state apparatus. This is accompanied by the demolition of the Stalinist parties, which were the expression of the old apparatus, and/or their transformation into open defenders of capitalism. The latter process was seen most graphically in the GDR but is also apparent in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.

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The Yanayev coup and the Yeltsin counter-coup of August 1991

The WIL/LTT’s The Marxist theory of the state and the collapse of Stalinism   clarifies and develops the Marxist theory of the state and is a powerful weapon for forging a genuine revolutionary party. It defended and clarified Trotsky’s defence of the USSR as a deformed workers’ state and it elaborated in detail both the way that Stalinism overturned the bourgeois property relations in Europe in late 1947 and early 1948 and it also spelled out in detail how the ‘film was run in reverse’ when these deformed and degenerated workers’ states were returned to capitalism between 1989 and 1991. It clarified the political problems which contributed to the decent into centrism of the Fourth International in 1950-51.

The LTT should have opposed the pro-imperialist capitalist restorationist leadership in the Baltic States and demanded independent soviet states, as Trotsky did for the Ukraine in 1938. These movements were used by Russian restorationist leaders like Yeltsin as a lever to begin the breakup of the USSR. Secondly, they should not have condoned any form of political bloc with Yeltsin apart from one in defence of life and limb. Saying that workers should have supported the general strike, briefly mooted by Yeltsin, was a form of political support as was rallying with Yeltsin at the White House.

But, whilst Yeltsin was the preferred agent of a section of the imperialist before and after the coup surely the main enemy of the Russian and therefore the world working class during the short period of the coup itself was Yanayev, it was he who immediately threatened their lives and organisations and so they were entitled to make a military but not a political bloc even with Yeltsin (with the “devil and his grandmother” as Trotsky said).

Workers, apart from some miners’ leaders who supported Yeltsin, took no action and supported neither side. As both the coupists and Yeltsin were restorationists the matter at issue was the pace of restoration and which sections of the bureaucratic apparatus would retain which privileges after that restoration. The coup, after all, was apparently directed against Gorbachev not Yeltsin. Gorbachev had attempted some defence of nationalised property relations up to then, although with waning conviction. When he abandoned even this with the Union Treaty breaking up the USSR Yanayev launched his coup because he saw the impending demise of that section of the bureaucracy on which he was based.

But the coup clearly had as its prime target the working class and its organisations, as its statements made clear. Had the coupists succeeded, and there was international ambiguity about who to support as the LTT’s The Marxist theory of the state points out, then restoration would have taken place at a more planned and rationalised pace which would have been better for capitalism in the former USSR and for world imperialism, than the unplanned and gangsterist regime imposed by Yeltsin which had such disastrous effects. Yanayev based his coup on the Tiananmen Square massacre on 4 June 1989 and the follow up.

As The Marxist Theory of the State says:

 “What is more, the restorationist goal was never in dispute. In their declaration to the United Nations and to the world’s governments on August 19, 1991, the coup-plotters stated that the emergency measures taken “will in no way…lead to the abandonment of the course of fundamental reforms in all areas of life of state and society.” Underlining their preparedness to continue Gorbachev’s pro-market “reforms”, they promised: “Favourable conditions shall be created for increasing the real contribution made by all types of entrepreneurial activity”.

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