National Sections of the L5I:

Gorbachev and the Soviet working class

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Mikhail Gorbachev, and those politically close to him, face a most daunting political prospect. He has staked his political future on reversing the tendency to stagnation and decline in the growth of the Soviet economy. But he has gone further than this. The means to that end promise a major attack on the economic privileges and political authority of a significant section of the state bureauracy. In order to deliver that blow Gorbachev is courting limited mobilisations of rank and file workers and party members against those who resist pressure for change.

All previous evidence suggests that either the entrenched bureaucracy will snuff out both the reforms and the reformers or Gorbachev will serve, unwittingly and unintentionally, to provoke a serious political crisis within which the long silent Soviet working class can organise and assert its independence once again.

Mikhail Gorbachev, and those politically close to him, face a most daunting political prospect. He has staked his political future on reversing the tendency to stagnation and decline in the growth of the Soviet economy. But he has gone further than this. The means to that end promise a major attack on the economic privileges and political authority of a significant section of the state bureaucracy. In order to deliver that blow Gorbachev is courting limited mobilisations of rank and file workers and party members against those who resist pressure for change.

All previous evidence suggests that either the entrenched bureaucracy will snuff out both the reforms and the reformers or Gorbachev will serve, unwittingly and unintentionally, to provoke a serious political crisis within which the long silent Soviet working class can organise and assert its independence once again.

A Crisis of Bureaucratic Planning

Ever since the 1960s it was becoming clearer that the system of bureaucratically centralised planning was running up against its inherent limits as a system capable of dynamic expansion. This was first apparent in its most industrially advanced link of Czechoslovakia. It achieved a decrease in national income in 1962. It did the same in 1981 and 1982. Poland hit negative growth in 1979, a 13% decline in 1981 and an 8% decline in 1982. Hungary recorded negative growth in 1980.

The Soviet bureaucracy is yet to reach such an impasse. The overall tendency has been for growth rates to decline with every successive plan since the 1960s. On official figures this tendency is stark indeed. In the late 60s the eighth five year plan chalked up an average growth rate of 7.5% a year. The ninth registered 5.8%, while in the late 70s the tenth achieved a more meagre 3.8%. More alarming for Andropov and Gorbachev was the news that the first years of the eleventh plan resulted only in 2.5% growth(1).

Such a record necessarily alarms the Kremlin leadership. They themselves are doubtless aware that their official statistics tend to overstate Soviet growth since every economic unit uses all means available to artifically boost its actual production. But the story does not stop there. Comparisons of indices with those of major capitalist economies are causing increasing concern within the Kremlin bureacuracy. Fears have been voiced that on present performance Japan and West Germany could potentially possess larger economies than the USSR by the year 2000.

The USSR has also begun to fall behind the US again. According to the CIA the Soviet GNP grew from 47.7% of the USA’s in 1960 to 57.9% in 1975. Since then they claim the USSR had slipped back to 54.0% by 1984. Even the Soviet bureaucracy itself claimed its GNP had reached 67% of the USA in 1975. They claim exactly the same figure today, twelve years later.

The developing Soviet economic crisis has deep roots both within the USSR and other economies built in its mould. It certainly is not the result of a neglect of research and development. Nor is it the result of insufficient technical expertise. In 1979 Soviet investment in research and development accounted for 3.4% of GDP. That was more than in West Germany, Japan and the USA. The USSR has the same proportion of scientists and engineers in its workforce as has Japan. It has twice as many as West Germany. Yet its investment and expertise bear comparatively less fruit in the form of innovation in the sphere of production.

Rather, Gorbachev faces a structural crisis of bureaucratic planning. The bureaucracy is an historically illegitimate creature which has no necessary role to play in production. Neither owning the means of production nor capable of rationally utilising the post-capitalist forms within which the productive forces were bequeathed them it oscillates between indolent and parasitical squandering of the product of Soviet labour and the strengthening of capitalist laws as its only known alternative.

Bureaucratic Solutions

The bureaucracy was able to develop the productive forces within the USSR at a more primitive level of economic development. However, the more developed and sophisticated that economy becomes the less the bureaucracy can plan and develop it effectively. Only the democracy of the workers themselves could articulate real needs and organise production to meet them. Without that the non-capitalist economies can reach none of their true potential. This contradiction between post-capitalist planned property relations and bureaucratic rule is at the centre of the Soviet crisis.

This crisis periodically necessitates a form of bureaucratic rule over, and even against, aspects of itself. In the 1930s that took the form of Stalin and Yezhov’s terror which both preserved the power of the bureaucracy against the masses and the remnants of Bolshevism and coerced the bureaucracy into action. Khruschev attempted to shake up the inherently slothful bureaucracy by changing its ministerial structures, denouncing its shibboleths and introducing a series of new campaigns.

The bureaucracy exacted its revenge in the form of Leonid Brezhnev. He prided himself on what he called the ‘careful treatment of cadres’. He praised his regime for achieving the ‘stability of cadres’. What this meant was that the bureaucracy got its snouts even deeper into the trough with no longer any fear of either the Gulag or of a posting in Siberia. To pay for it Brezhnev exported Soviet raw materials rather than developing a means of rationally deploying them. Like the historically illegitimate social formation that they are they acted as if there was no tomorrow.

Andropov and Gorbachev set out to put a stop to all this. Piece by piece they are rubbishing the Brezhnev era and its principal beneficiaries. But they want to find an alternative mechanism to Stalin’s tyranny and to Brezhnevite lethargy. In their place Gorbachev proposes perestroika.

Simmering Discontent

What causes the greatest concern to Gorbachev and his henchmen is that this overall pattern of decay and slowdown is politically destabilising the role of the bureaucracy because the economy cannot maintain any perceptive increase in living standards. There is evidence that in certain consumer goods sectors living standards may even be declining. Solidarnosc in Poland was the spark that lit up reality for the Soviet bureacuracy here. The revolt of the Polish working class showed quite clearly how destabilising to bureaucratic rule is the prolonged postponment of material improvements in the lives of the masses.

In the late 1970s, after a slow rise in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Soviet workers saw the improvements in their living standards falter and disappear. Between 1975 and 1979 meat consumption barely grew, fish consumption declined. As Voprosy Ekonomiki admitted in 1982, after 1975:

‘Meat consumption per capita did not increase, milk and fruit consumption even fell.’

Ironically, wages increased by 16% in the tenth plan and by 13% in the eleventh (1981-85). However, living standards stagnated because there was nothing to purchase with the increased wages. Despite consuming one third of Soviet investment between 1976 and 1982 and accounting for two thirds of the USSR’s hard currency imports the agricultural sector continued to perform lamentably. The result of this increase in incomes beyond supplies has been a dramatic increase in savings. As Pravda admitted in 1979:

‘Saving deposits have almost tripled in eight years, the supply of goods and services has risen much more slowly than the incomes of the population.’

The bureaucracy’s inability to seriously increase the flow of consumer goods therefore serves to undermine any attempts on their part to boost output through incomes bonuses.
Labour productivity

To the ideologues of Gorbachev’s perestrioka the reforms of the late 60s were a lost opportunity; the 70s were ‘the wasted years’. Now is the time for long overdue radical reform of the planning mechanism in order to produce the required phase of economic acceleration.

There are those who consider the situation to have reached such alarming proportions as to require drastic solutions. T Zaslavskaya is a case in point. She argues that the reason for declining growth rates:

‘. . . consists in the lagging of the system of production relations, and hence of the mechanism of state management of the economy which is its reflection, behind the level of the productive forces. To put it in more concrete terms, it is expressed in the inability of this system to make provision for the full and sufficiently effective use of the labour potential and intellectual resources of society.’(2)

To put it less prosaically, the Soviet bureaucracy laments its failure to raise labour productivity. As reserves of labour have been exhausted the bureaucracy has increasingly tried to push up growth primarily through driving up labour productivity. The 1981-85 plan (the eleventh) saw boosting labour productivity as ‘the key factor’ in growth. The present five year plan aims to achieve the growth in National Income ‘wholly through increasing labour productivity’. The ‘Basic guidelines for the economic and social development of the USSR in 1986-90 and in the period up to 2000’ goes even further. It calls for:

‘. . . a shift in production to a primarily intensive path of development to achieve a cardinal increase in the productivity of social labour, and to accelerate the rates of economic growth on that basis.’

It projects an increase in Soviet labour productivity by the year 2000 of between 130% and 150%. The problem for the bureaucracy is that by their own calculations the tendency is for Soviet labour productivity to go in precisely the opposite direction to their planning projections. In the eighth plan period it grew officially by 32%. By the tenth that figure had fallen to 17%. By the eleventh it stood at only 13%. Hence the central problem facing the bureaucracy is that of dramatically transforming the productivity of Soviet labour.

Cutting out the Middle Man

But how to boost labour productivity? For some it lies in cutting out the middle layer of bureaucratic management—the ministries in particular—and establishing greater authority for both the highest link—the state planning agency Gosplan—and the lowest link of the individual enterprise. Gorbachev has often taken up this theme. In April 1986 Gorbachev told an audience in Tolyatti:

‘Can an economy which runs into trillions of roubles be run from Moscow? This is absurd, comrades. By the way, this—the fact that we have tried to manage everything from Moscow until quite recently—constitutes our common or main mistake.’(3)

To underline his seriousness Gorbachev has taken the new Gosplan boss Talyzin onto the Politburo, unlike his predecessor Baibakov. In addition, since January 1987 a new central state quality control body—Gosproiomka—has been in operation.

At the other end of the planning mechanism - the individual enterprise - the reforms are no less far-reaching in intent. Under new laws plants must be economically self-sufficient by 1990. Each enterprise management will now have to ensure that their factories are profitable. This will be done in a context were there is much discussion of bringing prices more in line with market forces.

In the past such proposals have run aground. In October 1967 the Shchekino chemical combine in Tula was singled out as one of eight enterprises to be given enlarged autonomy. Management were to be allowed to dismiss workers and use savings from wages to fund bonuses. Initially, within Soviet terms, the combine responded effectively to the experiment. Between 1967 and 1974 it shed 1500 workers, raised labour productivity by 300% and pushed average wage rates up 44%(4). A similar pattern emerged in the other experimental plants. But the experiment’s fate speaks volumes for the profound conservatism of the bureaucracy. In 1969 the Central Committee urged the implementation of the method throughout the economy, yet by 1977 it was operating effectively in only 1000 enterprises. By 1977 the combine itself was reported to be economically stagnant.

The pressure for greater enterprise autonomy ran foul of the central bureaucracy’s profound political distrust of opening up spheres of decision making outside its direct control. There is no reason to believe that this distrust is not still deeply embedded.

Gorbachev is walking a narrow tightrope. In the laws and pressures of market forces he sees the means of kicking life back into the economy. Yet he wishes to avoid any relaxation of the code by which the central bureaucracy rules over industry, as has happened in Yugoslavia and China for example.

Labour Discipline

Another vital component of Gorbachev’s political agenda to date has been the drive to impose discipline. On the one hand this has meant cracking down on the most blatantly inefficient and corrupt state officials and industrial managers. More crucially, it meant a drive for tighter labour discipline.

It has become common place amongst the bureaucratic reformers to lament the level of labour discipline and the supposed low moral discipline of the working class. Zaslavskaya put it thus:

‘The widespread characteristics of many workers, whose personal formation occurred during past five year plans, are low labour—and production—discipline, an indifferent attitude to the work performed and its low quality, social passivity, a low value attached to labour as a means of self-realisation, an intense consumer orientation, and a rather low level of moral discipline.’(5)

The Soviet worker has historically enjoyed a degree of job security that has minimised the potential effect of managerial discipline. Neither does the output of consumer goods and agricultural products within the Soviet economy offer the bureaucracy considerable leeway in offering material incentives to large layers of workers in a bid to boost output.

Underlying all this is the cynicism and alienation that comes with decades of failed promises.‘They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work’ is a common refrain that sums up the attitude of large sections of Soviet workers. They are daily confronted with the inefficiency and corruption of their bureaucratic overlords. The special services for the bureaucracy contrast starkly with their meagre standards of living and the dilapidated state of many services. They know that power resides with parasites. But the repressive apparatus prevents them turning their hostility and cynicism into active opposition.

Under Andropov the drive to increase discipline included absentee checks by the police on shop queues and bath houses. It led to a campaign on the railways where the deterioration of discipline was supposedly at the root of very modest growth of the effectiveness of the railway network. In 1983 new laws were introduced on labour discipline. Absenteeism was now to be punished through a loss of holiday rights. Drunkeness at work was to result in demotion to a lower paid job for up to three months. Workers were now to pay for damages to plant.

Worker Participation

However, for Gorbachev and his supporters the drive for tighter disciplining of the working class is only one part of the answer. Whatever Andropov and his co-thinkers may have expected there are obviously clear limits to the ability of the repressive apparatus to dragoon the working class into greater labour productivity. As a Soviet management journal recently admitted:

‘The worker today is not the same as twenty years ago, and you cannot get the same discipline from him, even if you pound your fist on the table . . . What is needed is democracy and a knowledge of social psychology.’(6).

A recent study of Leningrad workers’ attitudes for the Soviet Academy of Science concluded that since a previous study in 1962:

‘. . . they have become more independent, non-dependent, and rational . . . preconditions for their more active involvement in management . . . it is difficult not to see the relationship of all the rooted problems of the national economy as the democratization of production. To a significant degree, this is already consciously felt by the workers.’(7)

Yet the problem for the bureaucratic reformers is that while discipline and exhortation may not be enough they run into the problem that the present organisation of labour has precisely been moulded in those terms.

The Soviet workers’ unions, for example, are mere appendages of the state and management. Their officers are not usually workers. Surveys in the 1970s showed that only 35% of trade union committee members were workers and only 22% of factory trade union leaders were themselves workers. They usually rubber stamp the work practice proposals of management and as such the unions are essentially cogs in the management structure.

They must concur with management for there to be dismissals, overtime, and for changes in job classification, wage system and work organisation. But they do so in a system where they are evaluated and paid on exactly the same criteria as are management, namely the effectiveness of the plant at meeting planned targets. This puts enormous pressure on the officials, whatever their initial intentions, to comply with management short cuts and sharp practices. This was candidly expressed by a trade union official from Penza:

‘Inside me live two men. One sees himself as a representative of the law, and the other as a member of the collective. If the plan is slipping away, can I really refuse? I am not an enemy to my own plant.’(8)

By the early 1980s it was clear that the trade unions were proving an inadequate safety valve for workers’ grievances and ineffective as mobilisers of increased labour productivity. Riga dockers struck in 1976 over food shortages, as had construction workers on the priority Baikal Amur Railway in the previous year. In 1977 there was a strike in Kaunus against wage cuts which the trade unions had supported. In Tolyatti bus drivers struck in 1979 and again in May 1980 over new route plans. This time they were joined by 70,000 car workers who added their protest against food shortages to their support for the campaign against new routes. At the very time that the Polish workers were doing battle with their own Stalinist bureaucracy. In 1980 there was a strike in the Gorky car plant over shortages, at the Chelyabinsk tractor plant and at the Kama river truck plant after Politburo member Kirilenko had told the workforce to work harder. In 1981 there were reported strikes in the Vorkuta mines and in Kiev in both April and August.

It is not surprising, therefore, that there have been extensive debates in bureaucratic and academic circles about the functions of the unions and of developing forms of worker participation. As we shall see, for Gorbachev, forms of worker participation are seen as being vital means for mobilising a section of the working class behind the regime’s objectives and, in so doing, putting pressure on management to comply with the drive to boost production.

As a result the bureaucracy has introduced changes in labour organisation during the 1980s. 1983 saw a new law establishing ‘labour collectives’ alongside union, party and managerial bodies in each plant. The labour collective was to be a body of the entire workforce with its own participatory role in managerial decision making. In the fairly intense debate that preceded the law there were advocates of giving its general meetings full powers to elect and remove managers in the name of ‘self management’.

As is so often the case in Soviet debates the mountains laboured and delivered a bureaucratically designed mouse. Many managers were opposed to a loss of rights, so too were many union committees. In the end the law stipulated that there must be two general meetings of the labour collective per year. Major enterprise policy decisions would have to be endorsed at such meetings. However, the labour collective was to have no organised expression between such meetings in the form, for example, of a permanent committee. Even such a minor break with bureaucratic practice proved an anathema to the framers of the law. Power in the plants was to remain with the esteemed ‘quadrangle’ (management, union, party and Komsomol committees).

The evidence suggests that Gorbachev wants to go beyond the 1983 law. His proposals for ‘self management’ include the election of heads of enterprises by the collective, which he described at the January 1987 Central Committee plenum as:

‘. . . a qualitatively new situation, a completely altered form of participation by the working people in the management of production.’

But this should not deceive us into presuming that Gorbachev is a champion of workers’ interests. He is trying to devise a means by which workers will identify more closely with the performance of their enterprises and, in so doing, apply controlled pressure on the most sluggish representatives of management.

Labour Brigades

As well as participation schemes Gorbachev has other plans to tie the Soviet working class to the drive to increase labour productivity. Central here is the brigade system. The avowed aim of Gorbachev is to organise production around a series of small work brigades contracted to fulfill planned tasks, responsible for their achievment and remunerated on the basis of results. On the collective farms the brigades may even be family units who are free to dispose as they wish of everything they produce beyond the norm they are contracted for. In the factories they are looked to as a means of boosting material incentives and collective discipline over the more backsliding workers. Brigades are to have a material incentive to shed surplus labour in order to become economically profitable in and of themselves.

Once again even the mildest bureaucratic reformer runs foul of entrenched conservative interests. The Soviet press regularly denounces the reluctance of management to relinquish their prerogatives to the brigades. From the bureaucracy’s point of view there is the even greater problem of maintaining control over the brigade units. Most are too small to support a base ‘party group’ which requires at least three members. This means that in early 1985 less than 20% of brigades had party groups within them. In the Soviet bureacuracy’s terms this is a potentially dangerous development subverting the party’s administrative role and function.

One further route to the same goal is to be found in the resurrection of the system of individual material incentives. Much has been made, over the last years, of the example of norm-buster Stakhanov and his ilk in the 1930s. Gorbachev has officially denounced ‘levelling’ within the wages structure. The evidence suggests that among Soviet workers there was a tendency towards wage levelling in the 1950s and 60s after the monstrous inequalities of the Stalin era. During the 1970s that tendency was reversed with skilled workers being able to earn up to twice the wage of their unskilled co-workers(9).

Gorbachev intends to accelerate that process of wage differentiation. In June 1987 he reinforced his regular strictures against ‘levelling’ by arguing at the Central Committee for increasing the incentives that an ‘honest’ worker could receive.

He would dearly like ot creat an acticve layer of workers imore directly an immdeidately indentified with the fortunes of their enterprises. Such a newly moulded labour aristocracy is vital to his plans to boost labour productivity and maintain social stability. But in doing so he is stirring up not only bureaucratic resistance to any loss of managerial prerogative, but also the spectre of proletarian resistance.

For new material incentives to have much weight the regime needs to be able to deliver on the consumer goods front. This it is signally failing to do. For a new layer of privileged shock workers to gel the threat of mounting insecurity, of redundancy and lower wages needs to hang over the rest of the workforce.

Yet any challenge to the traditional job security of Soviet workers brings with it the prospect of working class resistance. Any attempt to make material incentives bite by ending state subsidies of food, transport and welfare threatens to unleash proletarian struggle in a manner foreshadowed in Poland.

Capitalist Roaders?

To further stir up the economy Gorbachev intends to open it more to the pressures and intervention of western capital. The foremost Soviet enterprises are being given greater leeway to buy and sell directly on the world market. In the search for capital and technology the bureaucracy is once again campaigning to attract investment in joint buisness ventures.

Changes in the pricing mechanism have been signalled, but their scale and form has yet to be clarified. Behind the talk of introducing ‘real money’ into the USSR, and of a dramatic move from ‘social provision of services’ to ‘private purchase of services’, it is unclear how much of the Soviet workers’ social wage in the form of state subsidies will be under attack. The heralded license for private health care and for private restaurants and repair services are operating on a limited minimal scale The latter are to employ only those who are not officially part of the labour market, that is, they are to be based on housewives, students and pensioners and take on employed workers only on a part time basis outside their standard working hours.

Nevertheless, Gorbachev has not yet placed himself alongside the more avid marketeers in the Soviet economic debate. In 1985 he was still insisting:

‘Not the market, not the anarchic forces of competition, but above all the plan must determine the basic features of development of the economy.’

But there are some notable voices within the bureaucracy’s intelligentsia for whom the answer is to move even more dramatically in the direction of resurrecting the market mechanism. The influential ‘market’ wing of academia wants to end state subsidies on food and welfare, turn the ruble into a convertible currency, and introduce market criteria for all prices. Their perspective is one of consciously setting out to strenghten and restore the operation of capitalist laws in the USSR.

The full realisation of their programme—including the creation of a stock exchange advocated by some of their number—would ultimately mean the restoration of capitalism in the USSR. Such a project is enthusiastically embraced by important sections of the bureaucracy’s intellectual lap dogs. Such is their disdain for the Soviet working class and exasperation with the present planning apparatus that they have become open advocates(10) of an end to the Soviet workers’ job security and to state subsidised prices for staple goods, rents and transport. In an increasingly brazen way this section of bureaucratic opinion sees the reintroduction of a degree of unemployment as a means of disciplining the Soviet masses.

The Campaign for ‘Democracy’

As Gorbachev is at pains to point out the perestroika is not simply about a change in economic mechanism. It must of necessity involve a fundamental change in political practice. Yet it is the attack on bureaucratism and the campaign for democratisation which are most fraught with difficulties for the Soviet ruling caste.

What concerned several top Soviet politicians in the aftermath of Solidarnosc was the mounting proletarian hostility to the corruption and degeneration of the bureaucracy itself. The flagrant corruption of the late Brezhnev era was adding to the powder keg of proletarian political revolution. A significant wing of the top bureaucracy were convinced by the early 1980s that, as well as reviving the stagnating economy, it was absolutely vital to crack down on the most flagrant bureaucratic excesses.

KGB chief Andropov was the leading figure in this section of the political leadership. He had the long term interests of the caste at heart when he argued that its most corrupt members must be sacrificed in order to maintain the stability of bureaucratic rule. Andropov, Gorbachev and even Ligachev have, to a greater or lesser extent, felt the need to wrap themselves in the garb of fighters for social justice against the worst aspects of corruption.

This led Andropov to sanction the trials of several of Brezhnev’s cronies. It prompted Gorbachev to declare:

‘Strict observance in life of the principle of social justice is an important prerequisite for the unity of the people, for the political stability and dynamic development of society.’(11)

He is arguing that without a degree of democratisation it is impossible to involve the energy of the Soviet workers in reconstruction. It is necessary to break with a world where criticism and positive proposals for change get you into trouble and where an easy life means turning a blind eye to malpractices. He told the January 1987 plenum of the Central Committee that:

‘In conditions of reorganisation, when the task of intensifying the human factor has become so urgent, we must return once again to Lenin’s approach to the question of the maximum democratism of the socialist system under which people feel that they are their own masters and creators.’

Yet his proposals were far more limited than this fanfare really merited. The labour collectives discussed above are to have their powers extended to include the right to elect heads of enterprises. Gorbachev recommended this to the plenum as a means of enhancing the authority of one man [sic] leadership in the plants. He reported an experiment which will hardly make Soviet managers quake in their boots. In Krasnodar since 1983 8,500 executives have seen their promotion prospects depend on the judgement of the labour collective. Only 200 were rejected!

In tandem with this scheme Gorbachev is advocating a new law for ‘deepening the democracy’ of the electoral system. More than one candidate will be permitted for local and supreme Soviet elections. Such a system already operates in Hungary where the party and its stooges vet their potential representatives and offer the citizenry a choice between several safe candidates. It constitutes neither a challenge to bureaucratic rule nor a sufficient means of mobilising popular support behind it.

Last, yet not least, are Gorbachev’s proposals for ‘democratising’ inner-party life. Due to be discussed at a special party congress next year, the proposals involve extending the elective principle in the party’s primary organisations. In the proposals party secretaries would be subject to election by secret ballot. For the top of the bureaucracy this is a means of increasing the pressure on corrupt and footdragging local officials. The top leadership is not intended to be placed within the orbit of such procedures and Gorbachev insisted that the decisions of higher party bodies were

‘. . . compulsory for all lower party committees, including those on personnel matters, [and] should remain unshakeable in the party.’

The primary organisation’s local ballot will remain an adjunct of the central bureaucracy’s personnel drive against dead wood.

‘Democratisation’ is seen as a means of combatting the inertia, not of bureaucratic rule itself, but of its middle and lower layers. Its highest aspiration is to achieve a joint squeeze on the middle level functionaries from itself above and below through the intelligentsia and a freshly engineered labour aristocracy.

As envisaged it will remain strictly controlled and regulated. Gorbachev’s democratic talk should not deceive us. Yet he is desperate to create sufficient space in Soviet political life for a challenge to the grossest and most immediately dysfunctional aspects of the rule of some of the Kremlin’s own creatures.

Opposition within the Bureaucracy

The real danger for Gorbachev is that the criticism of bureaucratism will make way for criticisms of the bureaucracy. An informative example here is the history of the controversy over special shops and privileges in early 1986. Taking their cue from Andropov’s condemnation of corruption and Gorbachev’s strictures against bureaucratism the Soviet press printed letters attacking the special shops that cater for the most privileged layer of the ruling caste. Moscow party boss Yeltsin openly criticised such shops and promised their closure. But such ‘openness’ immediately solicited opposition from with the bureaucracy’s higher echelons. Aliyev defended the special shops for those who worked as hard as he did. Why should he stand in a queue like coal miners, office workers and factory hands are wont to do? Party ideological chief Ligachev attacked Pravda for daring to print such letters.

For Aliyev and Ligachev criticism of bureaucratism is one thing; critcism of the bureaucracy’s privileges is quite another. Hence in June 1987 Ligachev issued a warning against the campaign for democratisation getting out of hand. He warned of there being attempts to:

‘. . . exploit the deepening of democracy and openness to spread irresponsible demagogy hostile to the interests of the working people.’(12)

While party periodicals like Kommunist and Partiinaya Zhizu are urging their readers to ‘learn democracy’ and ‘learn legality’ the bulk of officialdom rumbles on in the manner it has grown so used to.

Of course, the enemies of glasnost are more diverse than Ligachev and his cronies. The repressive apparatus of the KGB (Committee for State Security) and the MVD (Ministry for Internal Affairs) sees its traditional functions under threat by too much ‘democratisation’. It is well worth remembering that it was the KGB who engineered the overthrow of Khruschev in 1964 when his plans were deemed dysfunctional to bureaucratic rule.

In the events that surrounded the release of Begun and the treatment of pro-Begun demonstrations the security forces proved themselves to have the will, as well as the ability, to act independently of the official leadership. while KGB chief Chebriakov has raised his voice against corruption, glasnost has already reaped the scalps of KGB chiefs in the Ukraine who tried to silence journalists campaigning against illegal working conditions in Ukrainian mines. Similarly the MVD’s police have come under heavy fire for their complicity in corruption during the Brezhnev era.

There are important aspects of the proposed perestroika which must prove disconcerting in the highest military circles. The central party leadership is of the view that in order to carry through a major overhaul of the Soviet economy it is necessary to scale down Soviet arms expenditure as part and parcel of an arms limitation deal with the West. Not only will this release required resources for the more dormant sectors of the economy, it will ensure an internationally stable environment within which the perestroika will be left free to follow its course.

Gorbachev’s desire for an arms limitation agreement speaks volumes about his political predicament. He has desperately needed to project his ability to harvest agreements with the western bourgeoisies as a counterweight to those sections of the bureaucracy whose political weight grew in the Brezhnev years when exported gas, oil and gold funded the bureaucracy’s military machine. The Soviet press has contained regular criticisms of the lack of movement in the military machine in the direction of the perestroika and democratisation.

In their resistance to Mikhail Gorbachev the Soviet military hit an unexpected problem when West German Mathias Rust turned Red Square into Moscow’s fourth international airport. This allowed Gorbachev to clip the wings of the resistant top brass. The sacking of Sergei Jokolov and promotion of Dimitri Yazov directly to the Politburo must have strengthened Gorbachev’s hand. But the military will continue to resist any diversion of funds from their previously prioritised sector towards consumer goods. Such a move would signal a further diminution in their bargaining power.

To the constellation of forces that will potentially coalesce against Gorbachev must be added the legions of ministerial functionaries and managerial superintendents of deadbeat plants who are threatened by Gorbachev’s axe. Unlike the military and security organs they have no immediately organised expression. But at their disposal is the massive inertia of the bureaucratic machine and their ability both to make deals with the security forces and honour them.

Gorbachev does not hide the existence of this array of conservative forces. He constantly warns against them. But to his advantage so far is the manifest absence of a focal leadership for an offensive, as against a defensive, challenge to his rule. The leading figures of the Brezhnev era are dead, retired or in disgrace. Scherbitsky remains in power in the Ukraine but with no prospect of becoming an all-Union challenge to Gorbachev.

In Khazakhstan Brezhnev’s ageing crony Dunaev, who was the godfather of a network of corruption, has been ousted. Gorbachev has imposed Moscow’s rule after sanctioning the repression of nationalist, anti-Russian demonstrators. But while his opponents may seem geriatric and divided, while Tikhonov and Gromyko may have been eased away from the levers of power, the problem is where within the massive bureaucracy are there significant forces committed to the perestroika? The public voices against it are few and far between. But where are the forces that are seriously committed to it?
The Effect on Eastern Europe

The perestroika has necessarily had major repercussions within the Soviet dominated degenerate workers’ states. The array of oppositonal forces that Gorbachev will encounter include the glutted plenipotentiaries of the Brezhnev era in Eastern Europe. With their own subsidies from West Germany, the Hoeneker regime in the GDR is content with its relatively impressive level of industrial performance, prepared to boast its own record of economic innovation, but deeply hostile to the glasnost and ‘democratisation’ siren calls of Gorbachev.

The Hungarian apparatchiks may have initially glowed with pride as Gorbachev trod where thay had dared to tread. But the truth is that their New Economic Mechanism has created no significant growth in the Hungarian economy since the early 1980s and has long since palled as an example of dynamic advance.

The Polish economy has yet to recover from the 1970s and early 1980s when its overlords blazed the trail of pawning the economy to the western banks and raising the workers’ cost of living accordingly.

In the familial regimes of Rumania and Bulgaria life will be no more easy for Mikhail Gorbachev. In Romania the Caesescu dynasty’s security forces police an increasingly deprived population. Glasnost is not popular current Soviet talk of the crimes of nepotism and ‘insider connections’.

It has reached a fair impasse when the overlords of East Berlin and Bucharest tremble as the new Pravdas arrive in their cities. That impasse is even more dramatically illustrated by the fact that this previously unsold paper is now in hot demand and sells out daily in East Berlin and Bucharest. It has doubtless located an important element of support and sympathy among sections of both East German and Rumanian society.

Czechoslovakia provides a further example of the destabilising role that Gorbachev’s perestroika can have for the Kremlin’s East European satraps. Under Husak, Brezhnev’s ‘noblest Czechoslovak son’, the CSSR has marked economic, political and social time. After Soviet troops destroyed its reform programme in 1968 the Czech bureaucracy abandoned even minor innovation in their political and economic mechanisms. By the early 1980s they were registering once again the decrease in national income that they had achieved in the early 1960s. Memories of repression in 1968 and the defeat suffered by the Polish workers prevented this serious economic downturn being answered by working class revolt. But it had served to polarise the Czech party leadership. Bilak and his supporters have espoused the market type of reforms that Dubcek paid too dearly for. Stroughal has clung to the Brezhnev doctrine of business as usual. That the ailing Husak has been forced to speak up for perestroika, that the gravedigger of 1968 now has to appear as an apostle of ‘democratisation’, shows just how clearly even the Czechoslovak bureaucracy is aware that a time bomb is ticking away beneath their rule.

The Soviet Working Class

Gorbachev’s problems do not end with the hornets nest of bureaucratic conservatism. There is no evidence that the Soviet and East European workers will be roused from the depths of cynicism and alienation to play their part in his verbally fiery crusade. There is no reason to be surprised. Gorbachev has made it abundantly plain as we have seen, that the ‘democratisation’ campaign will function within centrally determined limits. Such is the parlous state of the Soviet economy that he feels constrained to offer no real rise in living standards until the early 1990s.

Gorbachev asks the workers to participate in a charade of breathing life into the moribund planned economy. In return they are offered absolutely nothing materially. Where are the new goods in the stores? Where are the improved quality goods? Where is the evidence that anything really can and will change?

Not only can he offer little. The workers have learnt to discount the bureaucracy’s promises. ‘You make it work, then we’ll participate’ is the most oft lamented expression of working class ‘low morale’ that the hack journalists of the perestroika have resorted to.

But this cynicism is not just an enormous problem for the reformers. Historically rooted in the defeats suffered by the working class and its Bolshevik Leninist vanguard at the hands of Stalinism it is also a serious roadblock on the path of independent Soviet working class political struggle.

For sixty years it has seen a growing machine of repression and privilege described as ‘socialism’. While it has ritually been hailed by the wall slogans it has experienced no real independent political life of its own. Strikes have been localised and contained by repression and emergency supplies.

In the oppositional samizdat of the late 60s there were forces who, in their own ways, talked of ‘returning to Leninism’ and of ‘true socialism’. They were prepared to take a stand against the oppression experienced by ordinary Soviet citizens as workers or part of the oppressed nationalities within the USSR. Grigorenko and Plyusch were representative at the time of that ‘left democratic’ wing of the oppositional intelligentsia.

In the late 1970s that tradition was revived, to some extent, by the networks of the Free Trade Union Association of the Soviet Working People (SMOT). However, such currents were themselves weak and were decimated by political repression.

The majority of those circles who can broadly be termed as being oppositional in the Brezhnev era were profoundly elitist and concerned with issues far removed from the immediate questions facing Soviet workers. To a great extent the majority have now made their critical peace with Gorbachev as the case of Sakharov shows. Those who have not include Zionists, various religious sects and militant separatist groups. The Zionists refuse to work with Russians and have a platform of emigration to Israel that means nothing to the bulk of Soviet workers.

A Powder Keg of Oppression

If the we look at the major political revolutionary crises that have punctuated Stalinist political rule—Hungary and Poland in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Poland in 1970, 1976 and 1980-81—the proletarian masses have in each case moved against their rulers with a sense of national oppression.

This was an important source of oppositional energy. But in each case it had a vital weakness. It led large sections of the masses to identify either with ‘national’ reformers within the bureaucracy—as was the case with the Polish workers and Gomulka in 1956, the Hungarian workers and Nagy, and Czechs with Alexander Dubcek in 1968 or, as was the case in Poland in the 1970s, to fall under the sway of the anti-proletarian nationalism of the reactionary Catholic church. It meant that the workers projected their struggles as isolated national struggles which left them easy prey to the Warsaw Pact armies or to their respective national repressive apparatuses.

The Russian working class has no such sense of national oppression. This is not in and of itself a weakness. But years of Russification have kept alive the spirit of Great Russian chauvinism that Lenin so mercilessly attacked. This identification with the dominant nation in the USSR as against the minority nationalities can also prove a significant brake on the political development of the Russian workers. It will be kept alive by the increased tendencies to Russian nationalism that are being exhibited within the intelligentsia.

This in turn is serving to fuel nationalism amongst the non-Russian nations, most markedly in the Baltic republics. Both there and in Alma Ata after the replacement of Dunaev it is clear that there is a considerable powder keg of nationalism amongst the non-Russian peoples of the USSR.

But while Lithuanian or Latvian nationalism may fire defiance, the proletariat of those republics can have no hope of securing victory as part of a separatist movement in these heavily Russified areas and against the Kremlin’s repressive apparatus. Instead the road is open for bloody defeats and a strengthening of crippling national divisions within the Soviet working class as a whole. Similarly in the Asian republics Great Russian chauvinism and its opposite, in the shape of separatist nationalisms, will potentially fuel forms of Islamic fundamentalism unless they are both confronted by a genuinely proletarian internationalist alternative.

Learning the Lessons

As the attempt at a radical reconstruction proceeds Gorbachev and his associates will be anxious to learn from past political revolutionary crises in order to maintain political stability. So too must the Soviet working class learn the lessons. The experience of the Czechoslovak reform movement is well known to Soviet leaders of the present generation. It put an end to reform in the USSR and most of Eastern Europe until poor economic performance and the Polish explosion cut the ground from underneath bureaucratic conservatism. Gorbachev will want no repetition at the heart of world Stalinism.

As the Czechoslovak economy stagnated in the early and mid 1960s reform elements within the ruling caste jostled for power with the conservative old guard led by Antonin Novotny. That struggle against Novotny and the eventual victory of a coalition of reformers around Dubcek by January 1968 unleashed a wave of demands for change both inside and outside the party. Inside the party they took the form of changes that were to be realised in the election of officials by secret ballot in the Action Programme of April. In August there were new party statutes which recognised ‘minority rights’ in the party while explicitly forbidding ‘fraction rights’. In the economic sphere the reformers argued for far greater enterprise autonomy in a manner that is also strikingly similar to the projected perestroika of Mikhail Gorbachev.

But those who wanted a controlled decentralisation of the economy and revivification of government and party structures saw events fast getting out of their control. As the party modified its concept of its leading role in the Action Programme, which argued that ‘to lead is not to command’ and that the party had to earn the ‘moral right’ to lead, so non-party groups began to organise independently of the party reformers.

The Czech Social Democratic Party began to reconstitute itself. In the form of the KAN the intelligentsia began to organise itself to keep the party to its promises. Censorship disintegrated. Slowly the Czech working class began to express its distinct interests, firstly in wage demands which put increased pressure on the official unions to act to redress their grievances. The previously moribund factory committees became the centre of demands and debate as the Czechoslovak workers started to express their own specific interests.

The full potential of these pressures and mobilisations was never realised. They were silenced by the Soviet invasion of August 1968. But to this day they are a reminder to the ruling bureaucracies that the conflicts within their own ranks between advocates of reform and entrenched conservative interests can potentially spill out of the normal terms of closed debate and in doing so spur on independent actions of the masses. The Alma Ata riots confirm that all too clearly as supporters of the deposed party chief Dunaev seem to have played an active role in the mobilisations.

From Perestroika to Political Revolution

Learning the lessons of previous crises of bureaucratic rule, revolutionary Marxists must seek to arm the Soviet working class with a programme that can end its tradition of quiescence and passivity as well as putting a final end to its political repression.

The current impasse of the Soviet economy and of Soviet society in general can only be qualitatively transformed by a political revolution of the Soviet working class. Only a political revolution could end the stifling parasitic rule of the bureaucracy, putting an end to privilege and oppression. Only through such a revolution could the mass of toilers assert their power over the workings of the economy through democratically constituted Soviets, factory committees and trade unions. This would unleash the full potential of the planned post-capitalist property relations that the USSR is based upon. At last it would fall to the masses to energetically debate and decide on what needed to be produced. At last the masses would be free to say how goods could be produced more effectively free from the fear of losing bonuses or seeing work norms increased.

The mass of toilers would have every interest in making the plan work effectively for their own benefit. Neither the bureaucratically centralised economy nor any admixture of market mechanisms can achieve that goal for the mass of the Soviet working class. The qualitative boost in labour productivity and end of proletarian alienation that Gorbachev talks about could, in fact, only be achieved through the overthrow of the very caste that Gorbachev heads.

The political revolution necessary to win back for the Soviet working class its long lost sovereignty and freedom will be carried out against the Stalinist bureaucracy and not as a result of reforms inaugurated by that bureaucracy. This point is lost, for example, on Ernest Mandel. In his most recent programmatic pronouncement on the perestroika he at no time calls for either political revolution or even proletarian class struggle. He advances the view that the masses need free activity for their political apprenticeship and that ‘such political freedom is not provided for by Gorbachev’s reforms’ (13). And so what? Ernest Mandel then proceeds to accept the passivity of the Soviet masses as given and to urge the bureaucracy to initiate a more thorough going perestroika:

‘That means that the masses—above all the workers and the youth—are waiting for a whole series of tests in order to judge the real portent of these reforms’.(14)

And, while the workers and youth wait, Ernest Mandel sets Gorbachev a list of thirteen reforms to be applied within the Soviet system if he wants to pass the grade before the waiting masses. At no point does Mandel urge the independent struggle of the workers themselves against repression and privilege. At no point does our ‘Trotskyist’ Mandel argue for the Trotskyist programme of political revolution. It is Gorbachev who is urged to give the masses ‘socialist democracy’, a concept nebulously defined as one which would give the workers ‘more political rights and powers than in the most developed capitalist countries’.(15)

The programme of political revolution cannot be reduced to democratic non-class specific demands; it is a programme for working class power.

A Programme Of Political Revolution

Against social inequality and political repression
• End the bureaucracy’s privileged access to the special shops, sanatoria and hospital resorts. Make their services available to all. Abolish the extra pay packet systems, open the wage policies of every enterprise and institute to inspection by its workers. No state official to be paid more than the wage of a skilled worker.

• For a return to the Leninist norm of the Partmax. No party member or official to earn more than the average wage of a skilled worker.

• Equal access for all to education at every level. For the dismissal of all educational officials and teachers who have accepted bribes and for workers inspection of entry procedures. For a return to Leninist polytechnic education—all must learn to work, all must learn to administer.

• Abolish the censorship laws. For the free circulation of leaflets, literature, subject to working class scrutiny of its contents. For access to the press for all working class bodies in proportion to their support.

• For workers’ courts of elected jurors and the release of all ‘political’ prisoners of the regime that those jurors see fit to release.

• For a new legal code to be openly discussed by workers, that shall place elected workers’ courts at the centre of the legal machinery, that at every level shall publish the laws openly for all to see and shall defend the USSR in the necessary manner from imperialist and counter-revolutionary agents.

• For the abolition of the KGB and its replacement by a workers’ security commission on the lines of the revolutionary Chekha. For the abolition of the MVD and its replacement by a workers’ militia.

• For all workers to be trained and armed and organised in territorial militias.

• For the standing army to be cut to a size commensurate with legitimate defence of the USSR against imperialism and physical assistance to other workers’ states and to all forces fighting imperialism—the historic role of Trotsky and Lenin’s Red Army.

• For soldiers’ rights to assemble, organise and publish. For soldiers’ councils free of all bureaucratic control.

• Drive out the corrupt and the parasitical. For the immediate dismissal of all officials who have ever disciplined workers for criticism or for defending their rights. As the platform of the Left Opposition declared:
‘An article should be introduced into the Criminal Code, punishing as a serious crime against the state, every direct or indirect, overt or concealed persecution of a worker for criticizing, for making independent proposals, and for voting.’(16)

• For the right of the workers to dismiss all officials/managers known to have profited from corruption. All officials so dismissed to stand trial and receive the necessary punishment in a workers’ court and to be entitled to no more than the state pension after their ill gotten gains have been confiscated.

For independent working class organisation

• Defend and extend the right of the working class to its own independent organisations. For genuine free trade unions, free of bureaucratic control in which all officials are elected, recallable and paid the average wage of the membership. For that right to include the right to form new representative unions as well as to oust the layer of officials who masquerade as workers’ representatives in the present state unions and replace them with the workers’ own choice and free from ‘the leading role of the party’.

• For the right to strike. For a workers’ factory committee in every enterprise.

• Open the books of the enterprise to inspection of the factory committee. For all decisions in the plant to be discussed and ratified by the factory committee. We are for the factory committee appointing and overseeing all administrative personnel with the right to immediate recall and reallocation to the factory floor, not three yearly elections of state appointees.

• For factory committee mamagement of the factory shop and canteen and equal access for all workers to the goods in them.

For Soviet democracy

As the Russian Revolution demonstrated, the workers’ council of recallable delegates is the form through which the working class exercises state power in a healthy workers’ state. Rooted in the factories, the working class communities and the oppressed layers of society, they organise the great mass of the once exploited to become rulers of their own state. Such bodies have nothing in common with the present Soviets in the USSR which have a mock parliamentary form with geographical constituencies and, more important, are directly the creatures of the ruling caste.

The Soviets with which the working class will exercise its rule must be forged anew in struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy. Through the political revolution they will be transformed from organs of struggle to being organs of direct power.

Gorbachev has talked of the need to democratise the existing Soviet institutions including, following the Hungarian example, of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union allowing more than one screened candidate to stand in elections. To the extent that Soviet workers will be confronted with this controlled attempt to render the democratic mandate claimed by the Soviets more credible and to the extent that democratising the Soviets is being discussed in the factories it is necessary for revolutionary Marxists to raise their distinct voice.

• Return to the Leninist norms of Soviet representation. For all delegates to be ‘accountable’ in the form of recallability. For delegates to represent factories as well as housing complexes in a direct and recallable manner. For Leninist Soviets not bogus parliaments and bogus constituencies.
For a Leninist-Trotskyist Party

• No to the leading role of the CPSU! It is the party of the bureaucracy that parasitically squanders the product of Soviet workers’ labour. For the freedom to form parties committed to the defence of the gains of October 1917 and for freedom for those Soviet parties to put forward candidates and platforms in elections. For the right of any group of workers to put forward candidates for election. No to pre-election screening by the CPSU or any stooge front it may put forward. No limit on the number of candidates—let the workers, not the CPSU, decide!

The majority of active workers have illusions, if not in Gorbachev himself, then at least with fundamental aspects of his perceived programme for democratising and revitalising Soviet society and for rendering the bureaucracy less arbitrary, privileged and unaccountable. To that extent it awakens progressive aspirations amongst the toiling masses despite the intentions of those who originated it. The experience of the Czechoslovak CP and unions, as well as the experience of the horizontal movement within the Polish Workers’ Party in the Solidarnosc days, suggest that such is the nature of the Party within the system that proletarian mobilisations will find reflection in the state parties. This is so because large numbers of workers are, in actuality, captive members of those parties. This is especially the case with the CPSU.

We are firmly of the opinion that the Soviet working class requires a new revolutionary Leninist-Trotskyist party if it is to successfully take power back into its hands.

However it is not possible to ignore the fact that the bureaucracy will, in an escalating political revolutionary situation, come under challenge from sections of the members of its party. To the extent that we cannot win such rank and file elements directly to the ranks of Trotskyism and recognising that this will often be the first politically independent act of such workers we should encourage them to put their party to the test be demanding:

• Elections at every level and elections that are based not on the criteria of administrative efficiency that Gorbachev wants to introduce but which are based on open platforms and political competition in open debate. For the lifting of the ban on the formation of factions and the circulation of platforms imposed temporarily by the party of Lenin and Trotsky in 1921.

• The road to political revolution does not lie through reforming the CPSU but through breaking it up as an instrument of mass mobilisation behind the repressive and privileged bureaucracy.

Political revolution and the national question

Like the Tsarist Empire it replaced the USSR remains a ‘prison house of nations’. Down with Russification, for the right of all Soviet nationalities to their own language as an official language. Down with the Great Russian chauvinism that Lenin waged his last struggles against.

• For the right of all Soviet nationalities to self-determination up to and including secession subject to defending planned property relations and the USSR. At the present time we would not advocate that secession for any of the Republics. It is unnecessary to prevent the masses falling under the sway of more reactionary forces as was the case with Trotsky’s use of the slogan ‘For an independent Soviet Ukraine’ in the 1930s.

• For a return to the Leninist norm of the Partmax. No party member or official to earn more than the average wage of a skilled worker.

• We firmly oppose anti-semitism which the Stalinist bureaucracy uses as a means of dividing the Russian masses and protecting itself from their anger. It attempts to canalise existing widespread discontent and direct it against the Jews.

• While making no concessions to Zionism, Russian revolutionaries must consistently defend Jewish people in the USSR against oppression, including their right to emigrate if they so wish, subject to the legitimate security interests of the USSR.

For The proletarian internationalism Of Lenin and Trotsky

• For full support of workers’ liberation struggles globally and against their cynical manipulation and betrayal by the Soviet bureaucracy. Against the brutal suppression of the East European workers by the Kremlin and its agents.

• We are for the right of all present members of the Warsaw Pact to leave that pact while maintaining its defence of planned property and the USSR. For the opening and reworking of all inter-state treaties on the basis of complete equality and openess. for the end to all unequal pricing mechanisms except those that benefit the most impoverished and backward.

• No to a bureaucratic solution to the war in Afghanistan. Faced with pro-imperialist feudal forces, the Stalinists have consistently shown their reactionary nature by oscillating between military repression and rotten deals with these forces.

• We demand that the USSR provide sufficient support, up to and including troops to defend the progressive forces in Afghanistan, and that the support be given without strings tying the progressive forces to capitulation. While not endorsing the invasion of Afghanistan or prettifying the role that the Soviet Armed Forces (SAF) have played there, Soviet workers must not allow its rulers to murderously leave the PDPA and their supporters in the lurch.

• The only road to peace and a just end to the war that serves the Afghan and Soviet peoples is that of workers’ revolution in Afghanistan. A key task of the political revolution in the USSR is to further that end.

• Guns and aid with no strings to all those who are fighting imperialism.

• For real solidarity with workers struggling against capitalism. No more scabbing on those struggles through the export of goods to help break those strikes.

For a democratically centralised planned economy

As the bureaucratic system of planning reaches its historic limits the pressure within the bureaucracies for increasing the role of the market internally and opening it up to world capitalism increases. Against the stranglehold and stagnation of the old mechanisms such proposals can appeal to sections of workers as a type of ‘self-management’ free from central interference. the doctrines of ‘market socialism’ intersect with the most narrow forms of factory consciousness and serve to keep the working class sectionalised and divided as a class force.

• We are for a democratically centralised planned economy which starts once again the transition to the historical elimination of the market and all remnants of capitalism. This is only possible through the democratic management of the producers themselves as expressed through workplace based Leninist Soviet organisations. Only the democracy of the toilers can give full expression to both needs and capabilities. Only through the democracy of the producers does each have an interest in the development of all.

In nationally and materially given conditions a healthy workers’ state co-exists with market forces on the road to transcending them in various historically determined ways. Without a doubt elements of the Stalinist bureaucratic elimination of the market have actually served to retard the development of sectors of the Soviet economy—for instance, the Kholkhoz agriculture, and the service sector.

In these sectors our programme must be based on the following elements:

• Down with the state serfdom of the Kholkhoz and Sovkhoz. Down with any return to private family farming which, as it has done in China, will serve to historically retard the all round, long term development of the agriculture and rural society.

• For the farms to be democratically reorganised based on the democoracy of the rural toilers, not on the whims of the functionaries. For soviets of agricultural workers comprised of farm workers representing working units and accountable directly to them.

• For a massive injection of funds to raise the material and cultural level of the countryside to that of the cities. Transcend the distinction between town and country. For a genuine and operational cooperative sector, free from bureaucratic tutelage.

Down with all forms of sexual oppression

One of the most reactionary currents revealed in the current debate is that which sees the problems of Soviet society as being, in no small measure, the result of the ‘defeminising’ of Soviet women and feminisation of men through the role of women at work and the role of the social wage in undercutting the vitality of the family unit. There is a renewed campaign to strengthen the family as a unit of social cohesion and stability.

There are arguments for easing women back into the home so as to make it possible for Soviet men to win self respect back for themselves as breadwinners. Women workers are also likely to suffer at the hands of the labour shakeout.

However, there have also been signs that the democratisation of the press has allowed women to denounce the double burden they bear in Soviet society and the appalling conditions within which they do so. Youth papers have for the first time started to admit that some Soviet youth are gay and face particular problems as such.

• No to the oppression of women—for the real socialisation of housework. For the plan to provide the creche and sanitary facilities that can make this possible. For a massive programme to build restaurants, canteens and social amenities in order to lift the burden that women bear in the USSR.

• For a woman’s right to work and equal access to jobs not subject to protective legislation. In order to fight the legacy of male chauvinism and oppression we fight for an independent working class based Soviet womens’ movement.

• No limitation on abortion rights, but for the provision of free contraceptive devices for all to end the barbaric reliance on abortion and give Soviet women real control over their fertility.

• Abolish the barbaric laws against Soviet gays and the brutal repression of gays and lesbians.

Take the Road of Political Revolution

The alternative to oppression, stagnation and deprivation is for the Soviet workers to take up these struggles against the Soviet bureaucracy. There is an alternative to their rule but it is an alternative in which the workers take power into their own hands directly through a proletarian political revolution. That revolution will not have to expropriate the capitalists, but to build on that expropriation by ending political rule over the masses and over the productive forces that the caste plunders and squanders.

In the hands of the workers the plan can and must be revised from top to bottom to meet the needs of the workers and the most oppressed and impoverished sections of society. As the sovereign rulers once again the Soviet workers will put an end to all repression that is not absolutely necessary for the security of the workers’ state.

In order to make a political revolution that can put the USSR on a Leninist path once again it is necessary for the working class to organise and struggle independently. It must not wait for Gorbachev but organise now to form its own unions, and factory committees. It must initiate the struggle to oust the corrupt parasites who have been allowed to rule for too long. In the face of inevitable attempts to repress its independent mobilisations it must unite its struggles through soviets of workers’ deputies and an organised militia aided as much as possible by those sections of the SAF that can be rallied to its side.

In that struggle a new mass revolutionary party must be forged in the tradition of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party. Without it the working class will be incapable of decisively beating its enemies.

For Proletarian Political Revolution Not The Bureaucratic Perestroika Of Gorbachev

1 Figures from T Zaslavskaya, The Novosbirsk Report: Survey no 1 1984
2 Ibid
3 Pravda, 9 April 1986
4 See B Arnot, ‘Soviet labour productivity and the failure of the Shchekino experiment’, Critique no 15
5 Zaslavskaya, op cit
6 Quoted in J C Moses, ‘Workers self management and the reformist alternative in Soviet labour policy’, Soviet Studies, Vol XXXIX, April 1987
7 Ibid
8 Quoted in D Slider, ‘Workers’ participation in socialist systems: the Soviet case’, in Comparative Politics
9 See M Ellman, ‘A note on distribution of earnings in the USSR under Brezhnev’, Slavic Review, December 1980
10 For example as was Aganbegyan at the 1986 Party Congress
11 Pravda, 26 February 1986
12 Pravda, 4 June 1987
13 ‘Gorbachev’s Dilemmas’, International Viewpoint, 23 February 1987
14 Ibid
15 Ibid
16 L D Trotsky, ‘Platform of the Opposition’ in The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-27), p321 (New York, 1980)