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After the collapse of Stalinism: renewing our programme

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The Third Congress of the LRCI discussed and agreed an extensive update of its international programme with regard to Stalinism. Dave Stockton explains how events in the class struggle have posed new tasks for the workers of the Stalinist countries.

In December 1989, when the LRCI published the Trotskyist Manifesto, we were already aware of the historic nature of the crisis unfolding in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and China. Writing against the background of the Tiananmen massacre and the mass demonstrations which led to the breaching of the Berlin Wall, we wrote:

”The magnitude of the upheavals in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union can scarcely be underestimated. They will profoundly affect the future of these states and Stalinism as a force within the world labour movement.”

In the last five years Germany has been reunited and capitalism restored in its eastern half. Throughout Eastern Europe Stalinists were either ousted from power or remodelled themselves into quasi-social democratic parties, assisting in the restoration of capitalism. While the Czech Republic undertook a ”velvet split” from Slovakia, Yugoslavia disintegrated under the impact of a civil war more brutal then anything seen in Europe since 1945. By 1991 these historic events engulfed the USSR itself. Over three fateful days in August a Stalinist hardliners’ coup attempt collapsed. Boris Yeltsin seized his moment and, with it, the power. In swift succession he banned the CPSU—abolishing the nomenklatura system—broke up the central planning agencies and, in December, dissolved the USSR as an integral state.

Many so-called Trotskyist groups, especially those with a Stalinophile orientation, concluded that Russia’s transition back to capitalism was now complete. In sharp contrast to this identification of the ”the gains of October” with the fate of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the LRCI maintained that the restoration of capitalism, far from being complete, was just beginning in earnest. For us the question of the existence or survival of the Stalinist bureaucratic regime in Moscow was never the decisive element in our definition of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state. In this approach we merely followed Trotsky’s brilliant grasp of the nature of the degenerated workers’ state and its internal contradictions which condemned it to either political revolution or collapse.

Trotsky insisted that the proletarian character of such a state, whose political superstructure had undergone a complete degeneration, rested exclusively upon the character of the property relations which underpinned this structure. For more than sixty years a series of bureaucratic edicts boxed in the law of value—the chief economic regulator under capitalism—and prevented it from becoming the ruling force in economic and social life. Naturally enough then, we rejected outright the notion that the downfall of the Stalinist regime, even when it was replaced by a consciously pro-capitalist regime, signified the qualitative leap capitalism. We emphasised that the decisive moment of restoration would be seen in the final destruction of the relations of planned economy, which for a whole period survived the formal abolition of centralised output-setting agencies, and took refuge in ad hoc arrangements between and within key industrial enterprises and the barely reformed banking system.

Nevertheless, we have rightly paid meticulous attention to the changing political map of the last five years in Eastern Europe and the former USSR. Complex forms of dual power have emerged and been suppressed. Bonapartist, semi-bonapartist and parliamentary forces have struggled for supremacy.

New bourgeois or former bureaucratic governments have been swept in and out of office. Powerful figures from the ancien regime have been driven from power only to find themselves raised up again as the working class of these moribund workers’ states seeks respite from the maelstrom of “shock therapy”.

Over the last years the imperialists and their agents in Eastern Europe have proceeded cautiously in the process of restructuring. Moreover, enterprise managers have often taken successful evasive action faced with new marketsing measures.

Added to this, many thousands of workers engaged in dogged defensive action to preserve wages, jobs and social services.

Throughout these five years the Stalinist parties have, by and large, ceased to be the governing elite but the social character of the property relations has remained unchanged, if heavily modified. We are in a transitional situation of considerable complexity and a historically unique combination of tasks has fallen to the working class of the region.

A new range of combined tactics—in essence a blend of the programmes of social and political revolution—had to be elaborated.

Because we understood the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet and East European planned economies, because we had no illusions as to the thoroughly counter-revolutionary character of the bureaucracy or its state structures, their collapse did not fill us with despair. We had never mistaken the bureaucracy for the real subject of history, of class politics. Our attention thus focused on the working class and its potential allies and the vital necessity to win them to a defence of the planned property forms, even during the process of restoration itself.

We never expected a significant portion of the bureaucracy to rally to their defence. We believed that, in Russia and Easter Europe at least, no sector would do so. It was, and is, the working class which must save the planned property forms if they are to be saved.

In the 1989 preface to the Trotskyist Manifesto we wrote:

“Here and now we sound the alarm bells against the surrender of the nationalised economy, the monopoly of foreign trade and the centralised plan. With them goes the partial and inadequate commitment to full employment and the right to work. With them goes the equally inadequate social services and welfare system. (. . .) For actually existing capitalism is not the consumer dream—realised only to some extent in the lives of the west‘s bloated middle classes and labour aristocracy. It is the poverty, exploitation and starvation of three quarters of humanity. The fate of most of the workers’ states, if the working class fails to defend its gains, will be similar—semi-colonial servitude and super-exploitation. ”

In the years since these words were written we have made good our promise, developing programmes of action against restoration which had as their goal the democratic power of the working class exercised through workers’ councils and a democratic centrally planned economy. We developed action programmes for Germany in the swift transition period from late 1989 to the summer of 1990, for the long drawn out process which began in Russia in January 1992, for Cuba as its crisis deepened in 1993.

In all of the degenerate workers’ states where the restoration process is underway we have analysed these measures and developed our programme to combat them.

We never imagined that political revolution would be an automatic process, that it would develop spontaneously. We were well aware of the deep discredit that Stalinism had brought on the very name of socialism. Events over the last five years have proved one thing definitively. Seventy years of Stalinist dictatorship, combined with economic decay over the last decade and a half, created an environment in which the working class was prevented from organising as a class for itself.

As a result we realised that the first generation of the leaders of the masses would be pro-capitalist; that they would lead the masses to defeats, perhaps historic defeats. We observed five years ago:

”But whatever the outcome of this struggle the re-emergence of open class struggle and political life, however bourgeois and petit-bourgeois its initial forms were, will prove the only conditions in which a new, and eventually a revolutionary workers’ movement will be built.”

There was no alternative for the working class except to learn from experience. The duty of revolutionary communists is to aid this learning, to give it a scientific character, to warn, to prepare, to do everything in their power to shorten the period of defeats and disorientation.

Whilst preserving our programmatic intransigence against both market mania and democratic delusions, our duty is to stay with the masses, aiding them by deploying revolutionary tactics so that they may shed their illusions in parliaments, in privatisation and in nationalism.

To do this required the sharpening of our programme of revolutionary democratic demands to expose the restorationist “democrats”. It required us to sharpen our slogans, through a clearer restatement of Lenin and Trotsky’s programme on the unconditional right to self-determination of oppressed nations, even in a workers’ state.

Here, as we found when developing the Trotskyist Manifesto in the 1980s, an honest recognition of living experience, together with a return to the unfalsified works of the leaders of the October revolution to provide a methodological guide, proved the key to elaborating a new programme for the 1990s.

The Third Congress of the LRCI, in continuing this endeavour, has adopted a new fifth chapter of the Trotskyist Manifesto: “Against Capitalist Restoration! For Proletarian Political Revolution!”