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MRCI Theses on Gorbachev

Adopted by the MRCI conference, July 1987

1. From the mid-1970s the Soviet economy has shown mounting signs of slowdown and stagnation. Initially, this effect was partially offset by the high world market price of Soviet raw material exports. That cushioning no longer exists. The Stalinist model of a centrally bureaucratically planned economy has increasingly become a drag on the development of the productive forces. Its initial achievements in the sphere of industrialisation cannot disguise its inherent historical limits. The reactionary doctrine of socialism in one country isolated the Soviet economy from the world division of labour and forced industrialisation to be based on the material and cultural backwardness of Russia.

The stifling of proletarian democracy drained post-capitalist property relations of their lifeblood: the direct involvement of the producers themselves in extending and perfecting the productive forces to meet human need. In the hands of the usurping bureaucratic caste the planned economy necessarily developed with profound unevennesses and disproportions. The political expropriation of the proletariat meant that the bureaucracy met their top priority planning targets at the expense of industries and services that would improve the immediate lot of the masses. From the outset, the political expropriation of the working class and the consequent wall of secrecy and privilege that surrounds the bureaucratic caste led to apathy and cynicism on the part of the mass of workers.

2. The bureaucracy was able to develop the productive forces in the 1930s, albeit with gross disproportions. It was then able to concentrate its resources to both defeat German imperialism and reconstruct the USSR after the war, without assistance from imperialism. However its inherent deficiencies became increasingly evident in the 1960s and 1970s.

a) We now witness an economy whose formal growth rates (themselves in decline) cannot conceal a mounting technological gap between most sectors of the economy and the major capitalist powers. There are massive unevennesses between the technological level and relative innovation within the various branches of industry. There are major deficiencies in the quality and range of production in most sectors.

b) At the head of this system is a lethargic, historically indolent and rigidly compartmentalised administrative and management structure. This huge layer is under no real compulsion to modernise and innovate. Freed from the terror over its ranks of the Stalin period, it has an historic tendency to plunder the planned economy and to the corrupt use of its political power. This was dramatically expressed in the Brezhnev period. The inherent conservatism of this giant bureaucratic layer is an ever-increasing drain on the potential of planned post-capitalist property relations. Under these conditions, the planning apparatus and the division of labour within the bureaucracy have become less and less effective as a means of improving quality, overcoming waste and meeting the needs of the masses.

c) The arbitrary and corrupt rule of the bureaucracy stifles initiative, discussion and innovation. This has led the working class and the intelligentsia to become increasingly alienated from, and hostile to, the bureaucratic regime. In itself this is a factor contributing to Soviet economic stagnation. In conditions of economic slump that alienation increasingly threatens to spill over into open struggle against the privileged bureaucracy. For sections of the bureaucracy and for the masses, this was graphically revealed by the struggles of the Polish workers. Solidarnosc signaled loud and clear that the bureaucracy cannot rely on the working class to remain passive in the face of mounting evidence of the bureaucracy’s crisis.

d) A particular legacy of Stalinism is an agricultural sector that has been registering growth in productivity at an even slower rate than the rest of the economy. Shortfalls in agricultural production, together with the more generalised shortage of consumer goods, have made a nonsense of many of the bureaucracy’s incentive bonus schemes. This situation also threatens to ignite popular opposition: the majority of large-scale conflicts between the workers and the bureaucracy are over the question of food shortages.

e) The accumulating problems of the planned economy threaten the ability of the Soviet bureaucracy to maintain its defensive military competition with imperialism and its support for key pro-Soviet regimes around the world.

3. Gorbachev openly proclaims the need for a grand reconstruction of Soviet society (the “perestroika”) in order to break with its stagnation, corruption and demoralisation. In a rhetorical fashion, he regularly points to the scale of the USSR’s crisis. Gorbachev’s programme for tackling the crisis has much in common with that of Andropov, his old mentor and KGB chief. Andropov and the KGB proclaimed the need to purify soviet society by purging it of its dishonesty, corruption and stultification. The scale of the purge was envisaged as being minor compared with that of the Stalin period, however its principal instrument was to be the more effective overseeing of the bureaucracy by the apparatus of repression—the KGB and Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD)—the police. This apparatus was also to be unleashed in pursuit of labour discipline. The Andropov project underlined the profoundly repressive nature of the Soviet bureaucracy.

4. Gorbachev came to power in a bloc with Andropov supporters. His initial priority was to get the economy “working again” by controlling the activity of the middle layers of the managerial and administrative bureaucracy. This was mainly to be carried out “from above” by merging ministries and by sharpening the instruments of central direction and, in particular, the inspection mechanisms. Gorbachev’s project was to streamline the Stalinist machine, to produce more immediate and direct links between the individual enterprises and the central economic apparatus. This remains at the heart of his economic programme.

5. Faced with continuing economic stagnation and, no doubt, with bureaucratic resistance within the giant state apparatus, Gorbachev has been forced to refine his programme. Initially the centre was to be the main agent of reconstruction, together with management in the enterprises. Their task was to increase efficiency and to apply “glasnost” to shortcomings in the system. From early 1987 onwards, the hallmark of Gorbachev’s rhetoric has been the need for democratisation from below in order to carry out perestroika . It is this element of Gorbachev’s programme that most threatens his political base within the bureaucracy. The terms of this “democratisation” are severely restricted: it is seen as a limited means of pressurising the inert bureaucracy from below. The bureaucratic leadership is to keep strict control on its terms and limits. It is seen as a vital means of convincing sections of society to actively identify with the regime’s reforms and against their opponents, be they bureaucrats or proletarians.

Gorbachev’s democratisation is extremely tentative. It will be discussed at a special party congress in 1988. What is intended?

a) The introduction of the electoral system for party appointments. This can also serve as a weapon in the hands of the central bureaucracy against entrenched local cliques.

b) The possibility of more than one candidate standing in soviet elections. Based on the Hungarian model, it is a means by which Gorbachev and co hope to mobilise more non-party elements to participate in the soviet apparatus and thereby to buttress its credibility.

c) Plant managers are to be elected every five years and foremen every two years. This is a measure aimed both at keeping local management on their toes, and at strengthening the identification of at least a section of the workforce with management.

None of this is intended to subvert “the leading role of the party”: it is a means of pressurising the apparatus to work more effectively. However, it will:

i) Sharpen conflicts within the bureaucracy itself as the most unaccountable elements attempt to protect their privileges and prerogatives.

ii) Sharpen democratic expectations amongst the masses. To this extent it will serve to re-awaken political argument and debate.

6. Gorbachev is a reflection of the deep crisis of Stalinism. This system does not have the vitality and capacity for self reform necessary to progressively reopen the transition to socialism. Only a political revolution in which the masses overthrow the bureaucracy and take power into their hands through soviets and a workers militia can unlock the door to genuine socialist construction. The workers will have to democratically overhaul the plan to meet human need in order for inequalities and all forms of oppression to disappear. This is not Gorbachev’s intention.

However, the prospect of a serious conflict with the most inert and repressive elements within the bureaucracy, and of more or less open splits in the bureaucracy’s ranks does threaten to open up a period when the working class will have more opportunities to organise and consciously assert itself within the crisis of Soviet society. Unlike Khruschev, Gorbachev has been careful not to raise proletarian expectations with offers of major increases in living standards. He wants to win the backing of the intelligentsia and to severely restrict those workers who have been mobilised in his support, for fear of unleashing sharper struggles. He is aware that to the extent that perestroika encourages the working class to break with its tradition of passive cynicism it potentially opens the road to a left threat to the Stalinist bureaucracy.

7. Political leadership remains the central problem in a working class that is the overwhelming majority of Soviet society, has a high level of formal culture, but which has no tradition of political independence because of years of terror and institutionalised repression. The bureaucracy drowned the Soviet Trotskyists in blood and has systematically expunged that tradition from the proletariat’s historical memory. The reconstitution of revolutionary communism (Trotskyism) in the USSR will be key in determining whether the Soviet workers remain the oppressed victims of the bureaucratic caste sharing a “common ruin” or organise to take power. An open and honest accounting of Lenin and Trotsky’s struggle against bureaucratism and chauvinism can play a vital role in this process.

8. What will perestroika mean for Soviet workers? Unlike the Yugoslav and Chinese bureaucracies, Gorbachev is anxious not to weaken the central bureaucracy’s hold over industry. He hopes to link an increase in the operation of market mechanisms in certain spheres (enterprises to be profitable, prices to be brought into line with market values, private restaurants, etc) with more efficient centralised coordination. The proposed openings to foreign capital and the plans to join GATT and the IMF are far more cautious than either the Chinese bureaucracy’s “open door” enterprise zones or the Yugoslavian bureaucracy’s abolition of the state monopoly of foreign trade. In the countryside, fields will be leased to teams, including to family units. This is not meant to determine the entire shape of Soviet agriculture in the same way as the Chinese land reforms. While Gorbachev aims to strengthen the operation of market forces, his project does not embrace the restorationist logic that other sections of world Stalinism have employed in order to meet the crisis of Stalinist rule. However, there will certainly be a sharpening debate within the Soviet bureaucracy, with an increasingly vocal marketist tendency.

On every front Gorbachev’s policies will have a profound effect on the working class. Unions will lose much of their welfare role and will be pushed towards playing a greater role in keeping tabs on management and expressing some of the workers’ grievances, as a means of heading off a Solidarnosc-type explosion. The new profitability principle will sharpen the contradictions within the unions, if they are both to be a safety valve for workers’ grievances and to tie the workforce to management in a joint drive to boost labour productivity. This will take place at a time when there will be very real attacks on the working class:

i) An end to job security rights.

ii) A drive to increase differentials and inequalities between workers, as well as an end to certain preferential wages for manual workers. There will be a revival of forms of Stakhanovism as the bureaucracy tries to strengthen a supportive labour aristocracy of “productive workers”.

iii) Tighter managerial discipline.

iv) The erosion of the social wage through price increases. Higher prices, and in some cases higher wages will be introduced, but with no guarantee that the latter will secure access to quality goods.

v) For many workers, particularly those working in old or worn out factories, there will be the prospect of wage cuts at the hands of the inspection agency.

9. The task of Trotskyists is to fight for the programme of political revolution in the context of the level of consciousness of the Soviet workers, and taking into account their illusions. We must be able to relate the programme of political revolution to the proposed reforms and to the debates taking place, while never confusing the political revolution with an extension of those reforms or, like Mandel, dropping the slogan of political revolution in favour of a more radical, thoroughgoing and “democratic” perestroika. The programme of political revolution cannot be reduced to democratic, non-class specific demands; it is a programme for working class power. However, this does not mean that we will absent ourselves from the battlefield when the masses struggle for key democratic rights.

A Programme of political revolution

Against social inequality and political repression!

• End the bureaucracy’s privileged access to the special shops, sanatoria and health 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 the workers. No state official to be paid more than the wage of a skilled worker.

• For a return to the Leninist norm of the Party max. 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. 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 and literature, subject to working class scrutiny of their 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 liberate.

• For a new legal code to be openly discussed by workers. This code must place elected workers’ courts at the centre of the legal machinery. All laws must be published openly for all to see. The new code must 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, 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. This was the historic role of Trotsky and Lenin’s Red Army.

• For the right of soldiers 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 criticising, for making independent proposals, and for voting.”

• 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 to replace them with the workers’ own choice, 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 enterprises to inspection by the factory committee. For all decisions in the plant to be discussed and ratified by the factory committee. The factory committee should appoint and oversee all administrative personnel with the right to immediate recall and reallocation to the factory floor, as against three yearly elections of state appointees.

• For factory committee management of the factory shop and canteen. For equal access of all workers to the goods in the shops and canteens.

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 importantly, which are 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 into organs of direct power. Gorbachev has talked of the need to democratise the existing Soviet institutions. Following the Hungarian example, he has proposed that the CPSU should allow more than one screened candidate to stand in an election. Given that Russian workers will be confronted with this controlled attempt to render more credible the democratic mandate claimed by the soviets, and given that the democratisation of the soviets is being discussed in the factories, revolutionary Marxists must raise their distinct voice:

• For a 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 such 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 either in Gorbachev himself, or at least in aspects of his perceived programme for democratising and revitalising Soviet society and for rendering the bureaucracy less arbitrary, privileged and unaccountable. Despite the intentions of those who originated this programme, it therefore awakens progressive aspirations amongst the toiling masses. The experience of the Czechoslovak CP in 1968 and of the “horizontal movement” within the Polish Workers’ Party in the Solidarnosc days, suggests that proletarian mobilisations will find a reflection in the state parties. This is so because large numbers of workers are captive members of these parties. This is especially the case with the CPSU.

We firmly believe that the Soviet working class requires a new revolutionary Leninist-Trotskyist party if it is to successfully take power back into its hands. However, we cannot ignore the fact that in an escalating political-revolutionary situation, the bureaucracy will come under challenge from sections of the party membership. Where we cannot directly win such rank and file elements to the ranks of Trotskyism, and recognising that such opposition will often be the first politically-independent act of such workers, we should encourage them to put their party to the test by demanding:

• Elections at every level, elections based not upon the criteria of “administrative efficiency” that Gorbachev wants to introduce, but upon open platforms and political competition in open debate. For the lifting of the ban on the formation of factions and on the circulation of platforms which was temporarily imposed 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 in support of the repressive and privileged bureaucracy.

Political revolution and the national question

Like the Tsarist Empire it replaced, the USSR is 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 against which Lenin waged his last struggles.

• For the right of all Soviet nationalities to self-determination up to and including secession, subject to the defence of planned property relations and of the USSR. At the present time we would not advocate secession for any republic: it is not necessary in order to prevent the masses falling under the sway of reactionary forces, as was the case with Trotsky’s use of the slogan “For an independent Soviet Ukraine” in the 1930s.

• 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!

• Full support for workers’ liberation struggles around the world, 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.

• For the right of all present members of the Warsaw Pact to leave that pact while maintaining the defence of planned property and of the USSR. For the publication and re-negotiation of all inter-state treaties on the basis of complete equality. For an 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 their 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 will serve 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 such struggles through the export of goods to break strikes.

For a democratically centralised planned economy!

As the bureaucratic system of planning reaches its historic limits, there is a growing pressure within the bureaucracies for increasing the internal role of the market and opening it up to world capitalism. 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” thus 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 reopens the transition to the historical elimination of the market and all remnants of capitalism. This can only take place through democratic management of the producers themselves, as expressed by workplace-based Leninist soviet organisations. Only the democracy of the toilers can give full expression to both needs and abilities. Only through the democracy of the producers can each have an interest in the development of all.

An isolated healthy workers’ state will have to coexist with market forces at the same time as seeking to overcome them. 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 e.g: the kholkhoz in 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 in China, will serve to retard the long term development of agriculture and of rural society.

• For the democratic reorganisation of the farms, based on the democracy of the rural toilers, not on the whims of the functionaries. For soviets of agricultural workers comprised of farm workers representing working units, and directly accountable 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 co-operative sector, free from bureaucratic tutelage.

Down with all forms of sexual oppression!

One of the most reactionary currents revealed in the current debate in the USSR is that which sees the problems of Soviet society as being in no small measure the result of the “defeminisation” of Soviet women and the “feminisation” of men. This current argues that the presence of women at work and the existence of the social wage has undercut 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 back their self respect as breadwinners. Women workers are also likely to suffer in the labour shakeout. However, there are also signs that the democratisation of the press has allowed women to denounce the double burden they bear in Soviet society and their appalling conditions.

For the first time, youth papers have 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 women’s 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 the rule of the bureaucracy: the workers must take power into their own hands through a proletarian political revolution. That revolution will not have to expropriate the capitalists, but will have 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. When they are again in control, 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 independent workers’ mobilisations, the working class 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 this struggle a new mass revolutionary party must be forged in the tradition of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party. Without such a party the working class will be incapable of decisively beating its enemies.

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