The Soviet Union in Historical Perspective
“Even supposing for a moment that owing to unfavourable circumstances
and hostile blows the Soviet regime should be temporarily overthrown,
the inexpungable impress of the October revolution would nevertheless
remain upon the whole future development of mankind.”
Leon Trotsky, 1931,
I. The Collapse of the Soviet Union
II. War and Revolution
III. The Soviet Union is Born
IV. The Second World War
V. Post War Reconstruction
VI. The Soviet Union After Stalin
VII. The “Cold War” Years
VIII. Revolution and Counter-Revolution
IX. After the Soviet Union – What Now?
Appendix I. Lenin on Soviet Democracy
Appendix II. Lenin on Corruption
Appendix III. Churchill as Biographer
and Historian by
I. The Collapse of the Soviet Union
On 31st. December 1991 the Soviet Union was officially dissolved, and the news was greeted in the west with hysterical delight - communism, it was said, had collapsed. If ever there was a case of the wish being father to the thought this was it, because it was the Soviet Union that had collapsed, not communism; the two terms are by no means identical, and the difference is of profound historical importance.
Let us clarify this term, “communism”, which like everything that exists contains a contradiction and can be understood in two different senses. In the first sense it is a social scientific term which identifies the kind of society in which the means of production are publicly owned, and the production, distribution and exchange of what is produced is subject to the democratically expressed will of the people who all relate to the means of production in the same way, that is, it is a classless society, which must of necessity be based on a higher level of productivity and general culture than has so far been achieved. Clearly, no such society exists or ever has, and no properly informed communist would hold that it has, since it will take generations for classless society to evolve once the working class achieves state power through political revolution. Had communism been achieved within the territorial limits of the Soviet Union, (in any case an impossibility because it cannot be done in one country alone), then it would be fair to say that communism had collapsed there, but clearly this was not the case. How can something which does not exist be said to collapse?
In another sense communism is understood to mean the personal belief in the necessity of transforming the present, class divided society, from its present state into a communist one, and the collective theory and practice of those who engage in political struggle to bring this transformation about. The regime that issued from the revolution of 1917 was communist in this sense only, that communist society was its ultimate objective, and it had made important steps in this direction, but after the death of Lenin, in 1924, this process of transition ground to a halt when the brutal bureaucratic dictatorship rose to power under the leadership of Stalin and the anti-communist reaction against the revolution began.
However, since there are millions of people in the world who understand that the transition to communist society is a historic necessity, and who organise themselves into political parties for the purpose of fighting for it, then in any case, regardless of what happened in the Soviet Union, communism cannot be said to have collapsed in this sense, the only sense in which it has ever really existed. In this sense it must be granted that communism is alive, healthy and kicking as an international revolutionary tendency, and now that we are armed with this better understanding we are in a position to penetrate to the real truth of what happened to the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991-3 was a contradictory process which, for clarification, demands the dialectical approach. It was simultaneously a serious defeat and at the same time a huge leap forward for world social revolution, (that is, the transition to communist society), a defeat because the socialised property relations resulting from the Revolution of 1917, undoubtedly an important step towards communism, were overturned and the state enterprise system was privatised, and a huge leap forward because it removed the greatest obstacle in the path of revolution, the Stalinist bureaucracy. In order to fully understand this it is necessary to familiarise ourselves with the complete history of the Soviet Union in the context of world history as a whole, and firstly to understand the cause of its coming into being in 1917.
The climax of the Russian Revolution came at the height of the First World War, during the period 25th to 26th October, according to the old calendar then in use, with the storming of the Winter Palace, which was the seat of the bourgeois Provisional Government that had issued from the revolutionary upsurge and the overthrow of the Czarist regime the previous February. During these same hours the Congress of the Soviets, which, with the Provisional Government now overthrown, was to form the system of government henceforth, was sitting. The Chairman of the Petersburg Soviet, Leon Trotsky, undoubtedly expressing the unanimously accepted view of the Bolsheviks, addressed the Congress with the following words:-
“We rest all our hope on the possibility that our revolution will unleash the European revolution. If the revolting peoples of Europe do not crush imperialism, then we will be crushed – that is indubitable. Either the Russian revolution will raise the whirlwind of struggle in the west, or the capitalists of all countries will crush our revolution.” (History of the Russian Revolution, Vol. 3, page 315, L. Trotsky, Sphere Books Ltd.)
The period of history we must now study is the story of how the second of these alternative predictions came true in 1991-3.
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II. War and Revolution
War and revolution are inseparably connected. Capitalist nation states will only resort to the desperate measure of actual warfare when their economic system is in mortal crisis and the economic competition between them can only be resolved by the escalation of trade war to armed conflict. It follows from this that wars between such states take place at those historical moments when they are at their weakest and most reactionary and ripe for overthrow. The working class, on the other hand, are suffering the privations of war and are strongly motivated to resist their oppressors, and what is more they are, or at least during the twentieth century were, herded into vast armies, armed and able to organise on a grand scale. The Russian Revolution occurred in connection with the First World War.
On August 4th. 1914 there began not one war but two, one contained within the other. By this time the world was already completely divided up between the main imperialist powers, and this was a predatory war for the re-division of the world between them, Britain, Russia, France, Belgium, and later America on the one side, and Germany and Austro-Hungary on the other, a war from which the working class had nothing to gain. Contained and more or less hidden within this war was the war of the classes, the war of the governments on the workers, the war of the officers on the men. The struggle between the classes is of course never ending, since by their very nature they conflict, but when an imperialist power goes to war it must of necessity declare open war on its own national working class, in order to force the workers to do the fighting, and to regiment the industrial workforce to support the war effort.
The real cause of the war between the imperialist nation states is explained easily and simply, and the matter is dealt with definitively by Lenin in his book, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, in which he quotes figures which show that between 1889 and 1908 German exports rose by 89 %, and while prior to the turn of the century she had no significant foreign investment, by 1902 she had exported capital to the value of 12.5 billion francs, and that this had increased to 44 billion francs by 1914. Germany had become a powerful imperialist country with astonishing speed, and in order to enforce her right to foreign investment and exploitation of colonial territory she began a massive shipbuilding programme in 1900, which resulted in a fleet of 16 main battleships, 41 cruisers, 88 destroyers and many submarines by 1914. Her land army was far bigger than Britain's. Since 1815 Britain had operated a policy of maintaining a navy twice the size of the combined strength of her two nearest rivals, and the sudden appearance of a massive modern fleet on the opposite shore of the North Sea upset this balance, so a massive rebuilding programme was begun in 1904 under the direction of the First Sea Lord, Admiral Lord Fisher. It was about this time that the British ruling class made its commitment to the war, since it was obvious that if Germany continued its arms build-up she would shortly become too powerful to defeat and Britain would lose her position of world dominance. Indeed, Fisher twice advocated a pre-emptive strike, in 1904 and again in 1908, and by 1914 had built a fleet of 24 main battleships, 91 cruisers, and 155 destroyers. Larger than Germany's, but not decisively so, and since both France and Russia had also re-armed, and carried out joint naval exercises aimed at controlling the Mediterranean Sea, the balance of power was seriously altered, leaving Britain just one among several competing imperialist powers. The end of the British Empire was in sight, and imperialism as such had become the most reactionary, destructive force on Earth. Russia’s place in the conflict was contradictory. Predominantly a backward feudal country it nonetheless had imperial pretensions, but it occupied at the same time the position of a colony itself, since her rapidly developing industrial base rested on massive foreign investment mainly from France and Britain. Deeply in debt, it was obliged to ally itself to these countries in the war, hoping to share in the spoils by conquering new territory.
The war within the war, the war between the classes, also took on violent form, particularly in the armed forces on all sides of the front. The death penalty was freely applied for cowardice and desertion and often carried out the night before an attack, so that the following dawn the soldiers would be obliged to decide between probable death from a bullet fired by a comrade on the other side, or certain death at the hands of their own officers, their class enemies. Flogging was still practised in the Czarist army. Compulsory conscription began in March 1916, industrial conscription became a reality in practice and all trade union rights were suspended. As we shall see below the Labour Party gave full support to this war on the working class.
Trotsky’s reference to the European revolution was by no means rhetorical; during these years the whole of Europe was engulfed in revolutionary upheaval. The people became sick of the slaughter of war, the lies and patriotic jingoism of the ruling class were easily exposed and the real cause of war became clear at least to the more conscious layers of the working class. Prior to the war no-one could have had a clear idea of the scale and wretchedness of the coming conflict, but the workers, alarmed by the war preparations, began to make preparations of their own, not for the imperialist war, but for the class war. The Congress of the Second International at Stuttgart in 1907 unanimously resolved to fight war by all ways and means. In 1908 a large delegation of British workers took a petition to a rally in Berlin bearing 5,000 signatures including those of the leaders of the Independent Labour Party and Social Democratic Federation, which declared that while the workers suffer the consequences of war, only the propertied classes stand to gain, and the rally agreed that workers in all countries should unite to oppose the war.
The struggle against the imperialist war produced many rallies and demonstrations. The Congress of the Second International at Basle in 1912, at which every socialist party in the world was represented, passed a resolution saying that the war “cannot be justified on the slightest pretext of its being in the interests of the people”, and that it was “for the sake of the capitalists’ profits” and that it would be a “crime for workers to shoot each other down”. It went on to explain that the war would bring on a political and economic crisis which must be utilised to “hasten the downfall of capitalist rule”. There is absolutely no doubt that the mass of the workers in all countries were ready to act in international solidarity and use every means at their disposal to stop the war, and that if they refused to serve in the army, and refused to accept the militarisation of industry, a political crisis would follow which would have made the overthrow of capitalism entirely possible. As we have said, war and revolution are inseparably connected.
In fact, what happened was exactly the opposite: In every country, with the exception of a few supremely courageous individuals and the Bolsheviks led by Lenin and Trotsky, the working class leaders joined their own national ruling class by supporting the war, becoming, as Lenin described them, social chauvinists, socialists in words only and bourgeois nationalists in deeds, and they broke with international working class solidarity and assisted the ruling class to tie the workers in their own countries to the war effort. In Britain the Labour Party leaders ratted on the Basle Congress decision within days of the war declaration, in Russia the Mensheviks supported the war, and so did the Bolsheviks when they were legalised immediately after the revolution of February 1917, while Stalin held a controlling position for a short period. It was only when Lenin returned from exile in April, and a little later Trotsky also, that a fierce fight began to re-orientate the Party to the correct position of revolutionary defeatism, to take the opportunity presented by the conflict between the imperialist powers to unite the workers of all countries in a revolutionary struggle to overthrow capitalism.
In spite of this betrayal by the leaders of the Second International there were political leaders in all the belligerent countries who courageously upheld the decisions of the Second International and adopted the correct position of revolutionary defeatism. In Germany, Karl Leibecht and Rosa Luxemburg won a minority of the Social Democratic Party to revolutionary defeatism but were arrested and jailed. The French socialist Juares opposed the war but was murdered by a right wing patriot. In May 1916 the British Socialist Party, (not to be confused with the Labour Party), split, with the majority opposing the war and the minority supporting it. In Scotland a mighty resistance was centred on the Clyde led by John Maclean, then a member of the British Socialist Party. There were anti-war strikes and huge demonstrations. These were the struggles Trotsky had referred to when speaking of the revolting peoples of Europe.
As the months went by the full horror of the imperialist war began the be understood, the disruption to the economy caused massive house rent and price increases, (food prices increased by 33% by July 1915), and the disruption to family life resulting from the massive conscription of female labour, and the exhausting work regime, was met with resistance. Strikes led by shop stewards continued in spite of the labour bureaucracy's support for the government war measures which prohibited strikes and militarised the workforce. In 1915 200,000 South Wales miners successfully struck for higher wages. In 1916 nearly 2.5 million working days were lost in 532 disputes, and by July of that year over 10,000 workers had been jailed or fined for breaches of the Munitions Act which militarised the workforce. There were serious and widespread mutinies in the armed forces of virtually every country involved in the war which had to be violently put down often with loss of life.
Then came the shattering news of the Russian Revolution, bringing the war to an end as it swept across Europe. Trotsky explains how it happened:-
“The decree that announced our willingness to make peace was passed by the Congress of Soviets on October 26, , when only Petrograd was in our hands. On November 7, I sent an appeal by radio to the allied countries and to the Central Powers, inviting them to conclude a general peace. Through their agents, the Allied governments replied to General Dukhonin, the Russian Commander-in-chief, that any further steps in the direction of separate negotiations would entail the gravest consequences.” I replied to this threat with an appeal to all workers, soldiers and peasants. It was a categorical appeal: When we overthrew our bourgeoisie, it was not to make our army shed its blood at the order of a foreign bourgeoisie.” (My Life, page 362, L. Trotsky)
On November 22 the Bolshevik government signed a truce with Germany bringing the war on the Eastern front to an end. The inner war, the war between the classes, had now broken through to the surface and became the dominating factor on the Western front as well. The German Revolution began with a naval mutiny on 29th. October 1918 and quickly spread to the whole country. The revolutionary workers overthrew the absolutist rule under the Kaiser and it was replaced by a republic with a social democratic government headed by Friedrich Ebert which, with the workers holding a revolutionary pistol to its back, was forced to sign the armistice in November. The workers of Europe had now forced an end to the war between the capitalist powers, but the class war continued. Karl Liebnecht and Rosa Luxemburg were released from jail, and in December they led the foundation of the German Communist Party in the midst of a general strike and the formation of revolutionary soviets in opposition to the reformist social democratic government. They were arrested and brutally murdered while being taken to prison in police custody, their bodies were flung into a canal, and although the German Revolution got no further the rest of Europe remained in a state of class war. In Hungary soviets came into being and the workers formed a government for a short period. The French army was seriously undermined by a wave of revolt. The effect of the Russian Revolution was felt in Britain as early as June 1917, when British workers followed the example of their Russian comrades by holding a national conference in Leeds to set up Workers and Soldiers Councils, or soviets.
With the end of the imperialist war the class struggle in Britain, far from abating, took on new and highly significant meaning. Not unnaturally, the millions of war weary soldiers, sailors and airmen expected to be demobilised immediately, but in spite of their insistent demands demobilisation was limited to a token few. At this time British forces had been deployed not just on the western front but were also in Russia, in Murmansk in the north, Vladivostok in the east and in the Caucuses, and British ships were in the Black Sea. These forces, supposedly deployed as part of the war against Germany, were now to be used to crush the Bolshevik Revolution. This intention was clearly spelt out in the terms of the armistice signed on 11th. November 1918, which stipulated that Germany must withdraw all troops to within her own borders with the exception of those on Russian territory which were to return “as soon as the allies shall think the moment suitable, having regard to the internal situation in those territories.” It was also agreed that Britain would have access to the territory vacated by the Germans through Danzig and the Vistula, and the Black Sea ports, through which the Germans were already supplying the counter-revolutionary Russian “White” army, their bitter enemy only a few days previously but now their ally against the workers, at the beginning of the civil war in Russia. As if by magic, overnight, these bitter enemies, Britain and France against Germany, had become allies in the war against their common enemy, the working class. “We might have built up the German Army, as it was important to get Germany on her legs again for fear of the spread of Bolshevism”, said Churchill on 10th. November 1918. (Winston S. Churchill, Vol. 4, p.226, C. E. Calwell). This was the reason why the soldiers were not demobilised, but the plan failed for two reasons, first because of the monumental effort of the revolutionary workers of Soviet Russia, who under Trotsky's leadership built the Red Army to defend the Revolution in the teeth of the civil war, and because the workers in the Allied countries refused to fight their comrades in Russia. In 1919 a new International was founded, the Third or Communist International or “Comintern”, to replace the Second International which had betrayed the working class at the beginning of the war.
Many thousands of soldiers were occupying rest camps along the south coast, and on 3rd. January 1919 those near Folkestone received orders to embark for France, but since the war was over they understood that their ultimate destination could only be Bolshevik Russia, and they refused and placed pickets at railway stations and at Folkstone harbour to prevent troop movements. They demanded to be demobilised and threatened armed resistance. On 10th. January 1919 the Daily Herald reported that “everywhere the feeling is the same – ‘the war is over, we won't fight in Russia, we mean to go home’”.
These events at Folkestone are but an example of a revolt that swept Britain involving a total of at least 62,000 soldiers, with similar revolts in the navy and air force. Intermittent riots continued for weeks and lorry loads of mutineers descended on Whitehall demanding to see government ministers, to no avail. At Kimnel Park rebelling troops raised the Red Flag and were fired upon, five being killed and twenty-one wounded, and Epsom Police Station was stormed and the station sergeant killed. Troops in France also demanded demobilisation, as did sailors en route to Russia, and allied troops under British command in Archangel and Murmansk became mutinous when copies of an English language Bolshevik newspaper were mysteriously circulated. The minutes of the War Cabinet meeting on 8th. January 1919 provide sufficient proof that the British workers had given decisive help to the Bolsheviks in the first dangerous days of the civil war. It was proposed at this meeting that two battalions should be withdrawn from Omsk, but Churchill opposed it, saying, “The fabric we have been trying to construct would fall to pieces. The Czechs would go, Kolchak's army would disappear and the French would withdraw.” So much, then, depended on the British army, but the British soldiers would not fight the Bolsheviks. Indeed, the Cabinet military advisors had said that “there is considerable unrest in the Army on the subject of Russia, and the dispatch of further troops might have serious results.” Years later Prime Minister Lloyd George was to write of this period, “If demobilisation had been stopped in order to divert troops from France to Odessa or Archangel there would have been a mutiny. The attempt to raise a force of volunteers for the purpose of waging war against the Bolsheviks was a miserable failure.” (The Truth About the Peace Treaties, vol. 1, p.319, D.L. George) Finally, Lenin summed up the situation in his Letter to the Workers of England and America, published in Pravda on 24th. January 1919 – “Attempts to conquer Russia, which require a long term occupation army of a million men, are the most certain road to the most rapid extension of the proletarian revolution to the Entente countries.”
Lenin was entirely justified in this view, for it wasn't just the soldiers who resisted, the workers at home also played their part. A national “Hands off Russia” campaign was launched by trade unionists and socialist parties and the strikes were more or less continuous. In August 1918 the London police struck for union recognition, and again the following year for a wage rise. In Glasgow, the Clyde Workers Committee, led by John Maclean, called for a general strike on 27th. January 1919. The strike was total, with massive demonstrations, and many consider this period which has gone down in history as the “Red Clyde”, to have brought the Clyde workers to the brink of revolution. In England rail workers struck in September 1919 to resist a wage cut. This was most significant, since the rail union formed part of the “Triple Alliance” formed on 9th. December 1915, together with the transport and dock unions and the miners. The government was thrown into a panic, since if the Triple Alliance acted in unison it would amount to a general strike. The Tory Bonar Law wrote to Lloyd George saying “The King is in a funk about the labour situation and is talking about the danger of revolution.” The King’s cousin and close friend was of course Czar Nicholas II who was at this point under house arrest with his whole family. Prime Minister Lloyd George invited the leaders of the Triple Alliance to a meeting at which he said :-
“Gentlemen, you have fashioned, in the Triple Alliance of the unions represented by you, a most powerful instrument. I feel bound to tell you that in our opinion we are at your mercy. The Army is disaffected and cannot be relied upon. Trouble has already occurred in a number of camps. We have just emerged from a great war and the people are eager for the reward of their sacrifices, and we are in no position to satisfy them. In these circumstances, if you carry out your threat and strike, then you will defeat us. But if you do so, have you weighed the consequences? The strike will be in defiance of the government of this country and by its very success it will precipitate a constitutional crisis of the first importance. For, if a force arises in the state which is stronger than the state itself, then it must be ready to take on the functions of the state itself, or withdraw and accept the authority of the state. Gentlemen, have you considered, and if you have, are you ready?” Robert Smillie, a miner and Triple Alliance leader who was present, is reported to have said later, “from that moment on we were beaten and we knew we were”. Within days the strike was brought to an end and a great revolutionary opportunity had been lost. The reformist labour leaders had no stomach for a fight of that kind.
Here then was the European revolution to which Trotsky referred. Speaking later of Lenin’s appraisal of these events he said:-
“The symptoms which he observed through the screen of the military censorship of all countries did actually portend the approach of a revolutionary storm. Within a year it shook the old building of the Central Empires to its very foundation. But also in the victor countries, England and France – to say nothing of Italy – it long deprived the ruling classes of their freedom of action. Against a strong, conservative, self-confident capitalistic Europe, the proletarian revolution in Russia, isolated and not yet fortified, could not have held out even for a few months. But that Europe no longer existed. The revolution in the west did not, to be sure, put the proletariat in power – the reformists succeeded in saving the bourgeois regime – but nevertheless it proved powerful enough to defend the Soviet Republic in the first and most dangerous period of its life.” (History of the Russian Revolution, Vol.3, page 124, L. Trotsky)
It is therefore clear that the Russian Revolution was not an isolated event, but something in the nature of the hart of the fire where it is hottest, the highest point of the world revolution in that moment. The working class failed to achieve its revolution in the west because it was betrayed by its leaders, but why did it succeed in Russia rather than in the west? Russia’s primitive feudal agricultural economy and generally low level of culture as opposed to the much more advanced capitalist manufacturing economies of the west would seem to have condemned it to be the last in line for social revolution rather than the first. This contradiction is easily explained when we understand the revolution not as something immanent to the country itself, but simply as the first stage of the world revolution, as the reflection in one country of developments in world history as a whole. That imperialism was in mortal crisis there can be no doubt, since the competition between the main powers had exploded into the most destructive war in history. As explained above, Russia was the economically weakest of the belligerent powers, riven with debt and with a fatally low rate of productivity. Further, the capitalist class there was in its infancy, and proved unequal in the power struggle between the classes. Russia was the weakest link in the chain of capitalist nations. For years the political life of the country had been conditioned by revolutionary struggle against Czarism, the struggle of the petit bourgeois peasantry for the land and for democratic reform, often taking the form of outright terrorism. The spark which ignited this explosive mixture was Bolshevism, a strongly united and disciplined party in possession of the scientific theory of revolution, Marxism as concretised by Lenin.
The Bolsheviks never intended that the revolution should be a purely Russian affair. As Trotsky had explained to the Congress of Soviets, the purpose was to take advantage of this weak point in the defences of world imperialism, and to lead the heavy reserves, the workers in the western countries, through the breach. It was already understood by all the leaders of the Second International that the Revolution would break out, as set out in the Basle Manifesto, “precisely in connection with the war”. But, due to the treachery of these leaders, the reserves never came, hence the Soviet Union found itself in the position of a beleaguered fortress surrounded by enemies and under constant attack. Worse, as we shall see, it had to deal with the enemy within.
The millions of Russian workers and peasants followed the Bolsheviks because they were the only party that was in a position to deliver the future they so desperately had to have, a future that was encapsulated in Lenin’s famous formula, peace, bread and land. The Russian army, outdated, badly equipped, and led by incompetent Czarist bigots, was starving, freezing and disintegrating in the face of the German onslaught. As an effective fighting force it no longer existed. On the first day after the revolution, 26 October 1917, the Congress of Soviets passed a resolution stating its intention to begin peace negotiations, and on 7 November sent an appeal to the Allied nations, addressed simultaneously to the governments and the peoples, to join in peace talks, but they made no reply. On 22 November a truce with the Germans was signed and talks began, led by Trotsky, at Brest-Litovsk. Without an army, the delegation led by Trotsky had to negotiate from a position of hopeless weakness, but the Germans too had their problems, because there were strikes, serious unrest and support for the Russian revolution in Germany. Trotsky’s tactic was to string out the talks as long as possible in order to allow time for the revolution to develop in Germany and the rest of Europe, and no agreement was reached and the Germans renewed hostilities on 18 February 1918. The following June a Menshevik government came to power in Georgia and immediately invited the Germans to occupy the country, which then became a base for the counter-revolutionary White armies.
So began the “wars of intervention” by the western powers and the civil war waged by Czarist counter-revolutionaries against the fledgling Soviet workers state. Finland had been part of the Czarist empire but was granted independence by the Soviets in November 1917 and was immediately used as a base by the German army. The Russian general Krasnov made an attempt to march on Petrograd immediately after October, was captured and released, then made his way south to form the counter-revolutionary Don army with the support first of the Germans and then the Allies. The Czarist admiral Kolchak declared himself supreme ruler of Russia and with support from Britain, France and America waged war on the Soviets in the Urals, Siberia and the Far East. The British invaded Georgia in the summer of 1918. General Wrangel led a counter-revolutionary army from the Crimea again with British support. It fell to Trotsky to lead the defence against these incursions, and with amazing speed and facility he built the Red Army out of volunteers and the remnants of the old Russian army. He constructed his famous “armoured train” as a flying headquarters, equipped with an electrical generator, a radio station, a printing press, fighting units and wagons containing motor vehicles. In this train he travelled from front to front giving leadership and urgently needed supplies, and forged the disparate fighting groups who were already defending their revolutionary Soviet power into a centrally commanded army. In 1920 the last counter-revolutionary army, led by the French in the Crimea, was defeated.
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III. The Soviet Union is Born
The Russian Revolution was the result of the will of the people driven by historic necessity; it is only necessary to make an honest historical appraisal of the event to convince ourselves of this. The political entity that emerged from the revolution and civil war became the Soviet Union. It was officially founded at a congress of Soviets representing Russia, Byelorussia, Transcaucasia and the Ukraine, all of which had already adopted the soviet system in their own right, on 30th. December 1922. Other countries joined later.
It is fashionable today to regard the Russian Revolution and the Soviet socialist system which was its result as some sort of unfortunate accident of history, or even a ghastly mistake, but in fact it was absolutely necessary and it had to happen. In the first place this view fails to understand that the history of the human race is the history of the revolutionary struggle between classes. No doubt Marx had this in mind when he referred to revolution as “the locomotive of history”. From the very beginning of the revolutionary struggle of the bourgeoisie against feudal oppression the modern working class was also fighting for its emancipation if only spontaneously, often in the forms of riots and religious sectarianism. At the time of the Peasant War in Germany in the sixteenth century there were the Anabaptists, then the Levellers in the English Revolution, and Babeuf and his followers in the French Revolution, and later the British Chartist movement in 1838. The first truly proletarian uprising took place in Lyons in 1831 and this was followed by the Paris Commune of 1871, the first truly communist revolution which established proletarian state power although it lived for only seventy-one days. The next great revolutionary uprising was the uncompleted Russian revolution of 1905, and finally, like the highest peak in the mountain chain of events, the revolution of 1917. In a most important work entitled Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels explains with reference to the earlier struggles:-
“The new facts made imperative a new examination of all past history. Then it was seen that all past history, with the exception of its primitive stages, was the history of class struggles; that these warring classes of society are always the products of the mode of production and exchange - in a word, the economic conditions of the time; that the economic structure of society always furnished the real basis, starting from which alone we can work out the ultimate explanation of the whole superstructure of the judicial and political institutions as well as of the religious, philosophical, and other ideas of a given historical period.”
In the same work Engels goes on to explain the changes in the particular means and mode of production and exchange which had taken place with the development of the capitalist system of factory production, and hence the essence of the struggle between the two main classes as we live it today, the bourgeoisie or capitalist ruling class, and the modern working class or proletariat:-
“The means of production, and production itself, had become in essence socialised. But they were subjected to a form of appropriation which presupposes the private production of individuals, under which, therefore, everyone owns his own product and brings it to market. The mode of production is subjected to this form of appropriation, although it abolished the conditions upon which the latter rests … This contradiction, which gives the new mode of production its capitalist character, contains the germ of the whole of the social antagonisms of today.”
Here we see the general historical necessity for the revolution of 1917, the need to resolve this contradiction by making the mode of production compatible with the means of production by socialising the latter as well as the former in order to unlock the full productive potential of modern science and technology. The view that the Russian Revolution was somehow unnecessary fails to understand that it was a particular manifestation of this general law of the evolution of modern human society, and further, that since socialisation of the means of production implies the dispossession of the capitalist class and the reversal of the entire system of property rights and the system of legality based upon it, then it can only be achieved in a revolutionary way. At the same time it is important to understand that the general laws of nature and human society do not manifest themselves in a straight forward, mechanical way. It is true that, in the historical sense, Russia was least of all European countries ready for the transition to socialism in 1917, but the concrete conditions were such that there was no other way to avoid total collapse and national ruin.
To meet this necessity economists working under the Petrograd Soviet, which came into being at the head of a nation-wide system of regional soviets, (workers, soldiers and peasants councils), in February 1917 with the revolution which overthrew the Czarist regime and installed the pro-capitalist Provisional Government, proposed a series of measures of a socialist nature in the following terms:-
“For many branches of industry the time is ripe for a state trade monopoly (bread, meat, salt, leather); for others, the conditions are ripe for the formation of regulating state trusts (coal, oil, metals, sugar, paper); and finally, for almost all branches of industry contemporary conditions demand a regulative participation of the state in the distribution of raw materials and finished products, and also in the fixation of prices … Simultaneously with this it is necessary to place under control … all credit institutions.” (See Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, vol. I, page 386)
The leaders of the Soviet at this time, (April 1917), were for the most part Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, socialists of the Utopian type who were convinced that the Revolution would usher in a period of capitalist rule, but the objective necessity of these measures, which were of a socialist rather that a capitalist nature, was so obvious that they could do no other than recommend them to the Provisional Government. They went on to say that the Provisional Government should “take upon itself the task of a planned organisation of the national industry and labour”.
Lenin thoroughly approved of this programme, which the Soviet leaders had been forced to adopt against their own wishes, because it was pure Bolshevism. “The programme is excellent”, he wrote, “both the control and the governmentalising of the trusts, also the struggle with speculation and the liability for labour … It is necessary to recognise this programme of ‘frightful’ Bolshevism, for no other programme and no other way out of the actually threatening terrible mess can be found.” Thus we see that the socialisation of the Russian economy was not simply Lenin’s “good idea”, it was the only possible practical solution, and there can be no better proof of the necessity of socialism. The only difference between the Bolsheviks and everyone else was that the Bolsheviks, basing themselves on Marxist theory, understood it in good time, and no-one else did.
The war and the economic collapse of Czarist Russia, and the inability of the capitalist class to impose a workable solution by democratic means meant that revolution was a matter of survival for the working class, since the choice before them was not between revolution and liberal democracy, but between revolution and continued starvation and war under Czarist dictatorship in an even more extreme form following the attempts at fascistic coup led by General Kornilov, which began in August 1917 and persisted right up to the Revolution of 25th October, with the connivance of the Provisional government.
A revolution occurs when class divided society is in deep crisis and the old system can go no further, when the ruling class cannot continue to rule in the old way and the mass of the workers cannot live under existing conditions. The most striking feature of revolution is that the mass of the people, the oppressed class in a class divided society, spontaneously takes a direct hand in the course of events in defiance of all existing authority, hence in the essence of the matter it cannot be an act of dictatorship over the people. On the contrary, the very logic of the situation demands that they must answer the threat of dictatorship over them brought on by the revolutionary crisis with a revolutionary dictatorship of their own, so that having wrested state power from the ruling class by transferring it to the Soviets, it was then necessary for the Russian workers to exercise a dictatorship over the possessing class to disarm and dispossess them and construct the socialist order. We call such a period the dictatorship of the proletariat. So there was a dictatorship in Russia after the revolution, but it was the first dictatorship in history which did not negate the principle of democracy because it was a dictatorship of the majority over the minority, and the whole purpose of any democracy is precisely to subordinate the minority to the majority so that society can act in a unified way. Nor was it a communist dictatorship because communism did not yet exist, nor could it have done because it will take generations of economic development to bring it into being once the working class has achieved state power through revolution. In any case communism is a classless society and in such a society dictatorship would be an absurd impossibility; how can there be a dictatorship when society is one homogenous whole and there is no one class to dictate to any other?
The question of the dictatorship of the proletariat requires careful consideration. Why is such a period necessary at all? The answer is clear if we base ourselves firmly on the method of historical materialism. As Engels explains:-
“The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependant on what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in men’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are not to be sought in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.” (F. Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific)
But do not governments determine the economic life of society? Does not the political life of society have any bearing on its economic life at all? It does, but only in a relative way, as Engels points out in his polemic against Professor Eugen Düring, who took the opposite view, that the economic life of society is entirely dependant upon its political structure, a view that had some currency at the time and was known as the “force theory”:-
“The role played in history by force, [as administered by the state], as contrasted with economic development is therefore clear. In the first place, all political power is originally based on an economic, social function, and increases in proportion as the members of society, through the dissolution of the primitive community, become transformed into private producers, and thus become more and more divorced from the administrators of the common functions of society. Secondly, after the political force has made itself independent in relation to society, and has transformed itself from its servant into its master, it can work in two different directions. Either it works in the sense and in the direction of the natural development, in which case no conflict arises between them, the economic development being accelerated. Or it works against economic development, in which case, as a rule, with few exceptions, force succumbs to it.” (F. Engels, Anti- Düring)
Engels refers to historical experience of such cases, and then goes on:-
“But where – apart from cases of conquest – the internal state power becomes antagonistic to its economic development, as at a certain stage occurred with almost every political power in the past, the contest always ended with the downfall of the political power.” (Op. Cit.)
Here we see the revolutionary laws of history at work. As the means of production develop, the necessity of social revolutionary change manifests itself more and more acutely, but the state, struggling to maintain the “law and order” of the economic status-quo, the existing property relations, seeks to regulate the economic life of the existing social structure in ever more draconian ways, that is, there is a tendency towards political dictatorship. In modern times the result is generally some form of fascist dictatorship such as in Italy, Nazi Germany, Spain, and Chile. But none of these regimes survived for very long in historical terms, because they were “working against the economic development.” The dictatorship of the proletariat, however, is a progressive dictatorship because it works in accord with the economic development of the present epoch, by abolishing the social relations which were appropriate to the outdated mode of production, (private property), and introducing socialised property relations appropriate to the modern means of production. History is full of such examples, such as the dictatorship which resulted from the English Revolution of the seventeenth century, the French Revolution and many more. As we shall see, the early Soviet dictatorship under Bolshevik leadership led to the most astonishing progress, and it set the country on the path that led from the wooden plough to outer space in half a century.
The dictatorship of the proletariat is a regime which is transitional from capitalism to communism, a period in which the class division in society steadily dissolves as the property relations are transformed from private to public ownership. When the communist classless society is achieved there will be no need for dictatorship, or for that matter even a state. How was it then, that the dictatorship of the people led by the Bolsheviks over their erstwhile oppressor, the possessing and exploiting ruling class, became transformed into the horrendous Stalinist dictatorship over the people themselves? To answer this question we must familiarise ourselves with the precise historical conditions which gave rise to this new and qualitatively different dictatorship.
Revolution is a law of motion of human society. When we speak of revolution we do not mean such events as a change of government by some illegal means while political power remains with the same class; we have in mind the major historical turning points which occur when state power passes from one class to another, when the ruling class is overthrown and the oppressed class becomes the new ruling class. In Britain, the last such event was the English Revolution of the 1640’s in which the feudal ruling class was overthrown and the bourgeoisie became the new ruling class, exercised its dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell, and proceeded to build the capitalist order in the ensuing years. But when such a revolution occurs the old ruling class does not disappear from the scene, it resists the change, hence every revolution is followed by a period of reaction, tending to roll the wave of revolution back. Such a process followed the English Revolution and culminated in the restoration of the monarchy followed by the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 which restored some monarchical rights, and also after the French Revolution when the revolutionary Jacobins were deposed and executed by a reactionary coup in 1794. In the Russian revolution, the feudal class was overthrown together with the capitalists, and the proletariat, followed by the poor peasants, became the new ruling class. This in turn was followed by a period of reaction, (resistance to the revolution), when the feudal elements and their capitalist allies found political leaders for their cause. The chief among these leaders was Stalin, of whom little had been heard up to this time, and the dictatorship over the workers which took form under his leadership was anti-communist and counter-revolutionary in essence. This new dictatorship preserved the socialised property relations established by the revolution, but at the same time it preserved the old bourgeois attitudes and habits of personal gain and privileges for the ruling strata. Of course in was necessary to deny the very existence of the privileged ruling bureaucracy which was the result, so all that it did in its own interest was done in the name of the Revolution and dressed up in the language and iconography of communism. No wonder the uninformed fell into the trap of equating Stalinism with communism.
The social transformation wrought by the revolution was two-fold. In the first place it overthrew the old feudal relations in agriculture by dispossessing the landlords and giving the land to the peasants. In effect the peasants became a new bourgeoisie and began to employ wage labour. But, due to the scattered nature of peasant agriculture and the resulting individualism of such classes of people, and due to prevailing world conditions, they could not have achieved this revolution otherwise than under the leadership of the modern industrial proletariat, who, in carrying through their revolution for the socialisation of the means of production in industry, had of necessity at the same time to lead the revolution in the land question because they could not have achieved their objective without the support of the poor peasants. This latter was achieved on 6th. February 1918 by way of the Land Socialisation Act, which abolished private ownership of land and placed the land and all private stock and implements at the disposal of the peasants under the local Soviet authorities and the control of the Federal Soviet Government. The future course of the revolution now depended on the living relations between these classes, proletariat and peasantry, between town and country, between industry and agriculture. The famous "hammer and sickle" emblem was devised to express this relation.
By now the fledgling Soviet Union was in a parlous state. Famine had already begun during the World War due to the devastation of infrastructure and crops, and the civil war and the blockade imposed by the capitalist West that followed it caused dreadful suffering to the point of actual starvation. This situation was a much more serious problem for Russia than it might have been for a modern European country. It was predominantly a backward feudal country with a correspondingly low level of labour productivity, there were few roads or railways and hardly any electric power, so that economic recovery was bound to be difficult and slow.
The policy of “military communism” became necessary in 1918, a system of strict government control of all supplies and regimentation of production and distribution. This was followed in 1921 by the “New Economic Policy”, (NEP), which restored a degree of private trade in order to regulate relations between industry and agriculture and to stimulate the economy. As conditions improved under the NEP the class based contradiction between agriculture and industry began to unfold. The expropriation of the landlords had made the peasants much richer, but now that they had to supply themselves with industrial products through the market they were on balance much worse off. It became necessary to allow the increasingly bourgeois agricultural class to enrich itself to some extent, with the result that wage labour became more common and the gap between rich and poor widened alarmingly. As time went by the original programme of collectivisation of farming was shelved, the richer peasants gained control of the provincial soviets and began to influence government policy in their favour to the detriment of industrial development, causing progress towards socialism to grind to a halt.
This alarming situation had political consequences – those leaders who based themselves on the opportunism of the peasants grown relatively rich on the basis of the NEP coalesced round Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev, who began to rule by bureaucratic methods directly through the formal machinery of the Party and the State. Those who stood for collectivisation and progress to industrialisation and a modern socialist economy formed themselves into what later became known as the “Left Opposition” led by Trotsky. The conflict between these two political blocs became increasingly serious, with the Left Opposition striving for socialist planning and to preserve the democratic processes in the Communist Party and the Soviets, and Stalin’s faction consolidating its political power through bureaucratic control of the machinery of state. The generally low level of productivity and continued isolation of the Soviet Union from the more advanced countries resulted in grinding poverty for the masses, a situation to which there appeared to be no end in sight, and the scene was set for the rise of the bureaucratic dictatorship. As Trotsky explains, those who were in a position to make controlling decisions as to the distribution of wealth in a situation of generalised want began systematically to shape the system to their own advantage.
“The power of the democratic Soviets proved cramping, even unendurable, when the task of the day was to accommodate those privileged groups whose existence was necessary for defence, for industry, for technique and science. In this decidedly not “socialistic” operation, taking from ten and giving to one, there crystallized out and developed a powerful cast of specialists in distribution.” (Revolution Betrayed, New Park Publications, page 59)
By now Lenin was suffering severe ill health and was obliged to withdraw from active political work, but he was alarmed at this dangerous tendency towards bureaucratic dictatorship and expressed his opposition to it in written articles such as Better Less, But Better, and On The Workers And Peasants Inspection”. In 1923 the Central Committee of the Communist Party passed a resolution committing the Party to a new course of action aimed at raising the general cultural level of the Party and promoting wide discussion on the difficult problems facing the fledgling soviet state, but only Trotsky and his supporters fought for its implementation, while the Stalin faction resisted all attempts to limit their power. In a pamphlet entitled The New Course, a polemical work in support of the Central Committee decision and directed against the rise of Stalin and the dictatorship, Trotsky wrote:-
“Herein lies the objective meaning of the resolution of the Central Committee on the ‘new course’ of the party, no matter what ‘reverse gear’ interpretations are made of it. All the previous work of purging the party, the raising of its political education and its theoretical level, and finally the setting up of qualifications for party functionaries, can be crowned only by widening and intensifying the independent activity of the entire party collectivity. Such activity is the only serious guarantee against all the dangers connected with the New Economic Policy and the retarded development of the European revolution.” (Page 1,The New Course, New Park Publications)
It is clear, then, that Lenin, Trotsky and other leaders foresaw the dangers of the reactionary Stalinist dictatorship from the very start and tried to nip it in the bud, but the huge moral and political force of Lenin’s authority was no longer a factor due to his failing health and he died in 1924. By the mid 1920’s the rising bourgeois layers of the peasantry upon which the bureaucracy based itself politically became dangerously powerful, so powerful in fact that there was a real danger of the overthrow of the nationalised property relations and a return to capitalism. A point of crisis was reached in 1928 when the richest of the peasants, the Kulaks, organised a nation wide strike and refused to deliver grain to the cities at the price levels decreed by the government. However, a return to capitalism would have been disaster for the Stalinist bureaucracy since its privileged social position rested on the state system and socialised property relations, hence there followed a sudden shift in policy to a crash programme of industrial development to strengthen the proletarian base of Soviet society, and harsh measures to enforce collectivisation of farms. The dictatorship now developed along bonapartist lines, that is, the bureaucracy became a ruling caste based on a balancing act between two political forces, the developing social revolution, and the reaction tending to counter-revolution and the restoration of capitalism. To ensure its own survival it had to defend the nationalised property relations, but it did so only in order to further its own privileged position. This is the secret of the horrendously violent nature of the dictatorship under which all the communist leaders of the revolution were framed up in show trials, exiled or murdered.
Perhaps the greatest contribution Trotsky made to the theory of world social revolution as a historical process was his scientific analysis of the Stalinist reaction to the revolution of 1917. Characterising the Soviet Union as a “deformed workers’ state”, he explained:-
“As a conscious political force the bureaucracy had betrayed the revolution. But a victorious revolution is fortunately not only a programme and a banner, not only political institutions, but also a system of social relations. To betray it is not enough. You have to overthrow it. The October revolution has been betrayed by the ruling stratum, but not yet overthrown. It has a great power of resistance, coinciding with the established property relations, with the living force of the proletariat, the consciousness of its best elements, and the inevitability of world revolution.” (Revolution Betrayed, New Park Publications, page 251, L. Trotsky).
What does Trotsky mean by describing the Soviet Union as a “deformed workers’ state”? All attempts at a settled definition of the term, Trotsky explains, are futile and can only lead to error, because the Soviet Union was not a finished system of social relations, but was a historical moment of transition from one system to another, from capitalism to socialism, and the outcome of the transition was not yet a decided question. The Soviet Union might progress towards socialism or regress towards capitalism, (which latter, we now know, is what did happen in 1991-3). Many on the left who unconsciously subscribe to the metaphysical, anti-dialectical outlook which demands that a thing must either exist or not exist, is fixed and immutable, and who are therefore unable to grasp such transitional processes as Trotsky describes, the transition of things into their opposites, subscribe to the theory that the Soviet Union became a fixed system of “state capitalism”. In the first place, this is a crass misunderstanding of a term used previously by Marx to describe state control over enterprises within the overall capitalist system, such as occur when it becomes necessary to “nationalise” a failing railway system which is necessary to the capitalist economy as a whole. Secondly, capitalism is a system of private ownership of the means of production and exchange, and at this stage the property relations in the Soviet Union remained socialised under state control, and remained so right up to 1993. It is true that there had never been anything quite like the Stalinist bureaucracy before, it had a special privileged position in Soviet society, but it was forced to defend the socialised property relations in order to ensure is own survival.
In spite of these dreadful political conditions the advantages of publicly owned means of production and centrally planned economy became obvious. By 1925 state industry was responsible for 80% of industrial produce, the transport system was state owned, credit institutions were a state monopoly, and 95% of foreign trade was state controlled. Proper economic planning was now possible and the first 5-year plan began in 1926, and in spite of the corruption and mis-management of the bureaucracy great progress was made. From the time of the 1929 crash in the capitalist west to 1935 industrial production rose in Britain 3%, in Germany 4%, while in France it had declined by 30% and in the USA it was down by 25%. During this same period industrial production in the Soviet Union rose by 250%. Production in heavy industry rose by a factor of 10, and production of coal, steel, and electricity all increased dramatically.
Inside the Soviet Union the bureaucracy had found a base of support in the reactionary bourgeois layers who were finding their feet on the basis of the NEP, but just as we find the ultimate cause of the Russian Revolution in the European revolution as a whole, so we find the cause of its reversal, the wave of reaction, in world conditions. The defeats of the revolutionary struggles in Europe, particularly that in Germany, left the Soviet Union more and more isolated. Up to 1923 these defeats had resulted from the lack of experienced communist parties for political leadership. Later, particularly after the death of Lenin in 1924, and with the Left Opposition now deprived of its rights and politically isolated, the bureaucracy’s alliance with the bourgeoisie at home was reflected externally in its international relations. The internationalist outlook of solidarity with the working class in capitalist countries, upon which all scientific socialist theory is based, was replaced by the nationalist idea that a single country could arrive at socialist society within its own national borders. However, in order to achieve this, peaceful relations with the capitalist ruling class of other countries was seen as necessary. With this two sided policy, based on the theory of “socialism in one country”, and “peaceful co-existence”, Stalinism found finished and determinate form as a powerful counter-revolutionary political force at the disposal of the capitalist ruling class, and it is important to adhere to this strictly scientific understanding of the term, as opposed to its later vulgar misuse by those who wish to falsely equate Stalinism with communism.
Workers in struggle everywhere looked to the Soviet Union and the Comintern for leadership and support, but just as the bureaucracy used the machinery of the Soviet State to serve its own ends domestically, the Comintern became a tool to serve its ends internationally. Trotsky explains:-
“The international situation was pushing with mighty forces in the same direction. The Soviet bureaucracy became more self-confident, the heavier the blows dealt to the world working class. Between these two facts there was not only a chronological, but a causal connection, and one which worked in two directions. The leaders of the bureaucracy, [through their control of the Comintern], promoted the proletarian defeats; the defeats promoted the rise of the bureaucracy. The crushing of the Bulgarian insurrection and the inglorious retreat of the German Workers Party in 1923, the collapse of the Estonian attempt at insurrection in 1924, the treacherous liquidation of the General Strike in England and the unworthy conduct of the Polish workers’ party at the installation of Pilsudski in 1926, the terrible massacre of the Chinese Revolution in 1927, and, finally, the still more ominous recent defeats in Germany and Austria – these are the historic catastrophes which killed the faith of the Soviet masses in world revolution, and permitted the bureaucracy to rise higher and higher as the sole light of salvation.” (Op. Cit., page 90)
The Left Opposition continued to advance the international perspective but was by now politically defeated. Stalin, by now the supreme dictator of the Soviet Union, now crushed all opposition by driving members of the Left Opposition out of leading positions in the Communist Party and the Soviets and finally by mass arrests, exile, judicial frame-up and assassination. Here it is important to note precisely who were the leaders of the Left Opposition. Firstly there was Trotsky himself, the leading Bolshevik theorist after Lenin and the practical leader of the Revolution and the civil war. The others were all Bolsheviks who had been in leading positions in the party and the Revolution, in direct association with Lenin. Clearly then, the suggestion that the Stalinist dictatorship was “communist” is false, since the dictatorship was directed precisely against the communists, many of whom, to their credit, never gave up their resistance. In later years Lenin’s wife, Krupskaya, remarked that “if Lenin were still alive he would be in prison.” Trotsky compares this process of reaction against the Russian revolution to that of the French revolution when, on 9th. Thermidor, (July 27, 1794), the counter-revolutionary coup took place and the revolutionary Jacobins led by Robespierre were executed.
Under Stalinist leadership the Comintern, originally constituted as the world party of social revolution, became nothing but a tool for the conduct of Stalin’s foreign relations which in practice meant a means of compromise with the ruling class and betrayal of the international struggle for world revolution. When interviewed by an American press baron, who asked him whether the Soviet Union had any plans or intentions regarding the world revolution, Stalin replied, “We never had any such plans or intentions … This is the result of a misunderstanding”. (Revolution Betrayed, page 202). Disastrous and bloody defeats for the international working class followed as a result of this dreadful betrayal.
In China there were revolutionary struggles to overthrow the ancient feudal system, with the bourgeoisie organised by the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek, and a large communist party with mass support. Stalin, taking a conservative, right-wing position, decreed that the Kuomintang must lead the revolution and the communist party must play a subordinate role – he even made Chiang Kai-shek, a capitalist, an honorary member of the Executive Committee of the Comintern ! In 1927 the Kuomintang, with communist support, won a decisive victory in the civil war and immediately carried out a bloody massacre of the communist party and thousands of its supporters.
The Bolsheviks had always been aware that it was vitally necessary for the revolution to triumph in advanced capitalist countries since socialism can only be built on the basis of advanced and highly productive economy and on a world scale, and Germany was considered a key country. There was every possibility of successful revolution in Germany, since the working class was highly educated and had lived through the experience of the 1919 revolution which had overthrown the Kaiser, established a republic and briefly brought soviets into being. By the 1920’s the German economy was in a parlous state due to the restrictions and heavy reparation payments enforced by the victor countries under the Versailles Treaty. Her economic stability depended on huge loans from America, and when these were withdrawn following the economic crash of 1929 Germany was plunged into crisis. The working class fought the massive unemployment, striking in support of the right to work, and giving substantial support the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party, but in spite of continued working class militancy, and increasing support for the Social Democrats and the Communist Party, the Nazis came to power. How did it happen?
The answer lies in the opportunist policy of the Comintern and the German Communist Party, the KPD. As revolutionary struggles began in Germany Stalin, reacting blindly to the disastrous result of his policy in China, veered to an ultra-left position. In times of crisis, he correctly observed, the ruling class resorted to fascist methods, but he went on to conclude that since the social democratic parties, that is the parties of the Second International which had betrayed the Revolution in 1914, were the main support of the ruling class, then they were indistinguishable from actual fascists, and he coined the term “social-fascists” to describe them, a term without any basis in truth. Both the Social Democratic Party, (SPD), and the Communist Party had millions of supporters and elected representatives in the Reichstag, but under instruction from the Comintern the Communist Party was forbidden to enter into any united front activity with the so-called social fascists, leaving the German working class split and at loggerheads at every important turn, with the result that fascism triumphed and Hitler came to power on January 30th., 1933. He immediately set about liquidating the political leadership of the working class. A Presidential Order, signed by President von Hindenburg and Hitler, suspended the constitution and went on to say:-
" Restrictions on the freedom of the individual, the right to free speech, including freedom of the press and the right of assembly and the right to form groups, infringements on the secrecy of post, telegraph and telephone communications, house searches, confiscation and limitation in property ownership over and above the previously legally specified limitations are now permissible."
Weeks later the Munich Chief of Police, Himmler, issued the following press announcement:
"On Wednesday the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with an accommodation for 5000 persons. All Communists and -- where necessary -- Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security are to be concentrated here, as in the long run it is not possible to keep individual functionaries in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons, and on the other hand these people cannot be released because attempts have shown that they persist in their efforts to agitate and organize as soon as they are released."
It is clear from this that the heinous concentration camp system, which was much more widespread than is generally believed, was originally conceived as a system for the mass liquidation of the leadership of the working class, communist, socialists, and trade union leaders. Subsequently, as we know, the camp system was expanded to the slave labour economy which carried capitalist exploitation of labour to its logical conclusion, and played its part in the German economic recovery and war effort. But even the Nazis could not place German capitalism on firm foundations without expanding her territory, that is, without acquiring an empire, or as the Nazis called it, “living room”. Czechoslovakia and Poland were obvious targets, but the main prize was Soviet Russia, with her vast grain growing areas, oil, and other raw materials.
Having precipitated this dreadful defeat at the hands of the Nazis Stalin lurched from his extreme left to an extreme right position. At its 7th. Congress in August 1935 the Comintern adopted the policy of the “Popular Front”. It concretised the Stalinist process of betrayal of the revolutionary struggles of the working class by tying the communist parties of the world not just to the social democracy, the social chauvinist parties of the Second International, but to the political organisations of the capitalist class as well, and this in spite of the horrendous experience with the Kuomintang. Ostensibly the purpose of the Popular Front tactic was to unite any and all elements of society that might possibly be opposed to fascism, and it is vital that we grasp the essence of this new turn. Up to this point Trotsky and the International Left Opposition, (ILO), had seen the catastrophes such as in China and Germany as the result of mistakes by the Stalinist led Comintern, and he regarded the International Left Opposition as an expelled faction of the Comintern. The experience of the Popular front, however, convinced him that it was no longer a question of mistakes but deliberate and conscious betrayal of the revolutionary struggles of the international working class to ensure the continued survival of the bureaucracy as a parasitic caste on the backs of the workers, and that there was no possibility of reforming the Comintern and returning it to the correct road. Accordingly he resolved to split from the Third International, the Comintern, and found the Fourth International, which came into being in 1938. Since the first result of the Popular Front policy was to bring disastrous defeat and the fascist dictatorship under General Franco down on the heads of the Spanish working class in 1939, we can perhaps best grasp the essence of the Popular Front policy in this context. The following quote is an excellent general statement of the nature of fascism as a historical phenomenon:-
“The bourgeoisie does not light-mindedly take to fascism. The Nazi movement of Germany had almost no bourgeois support in the putsch of 1923. [Hitler’s failed attempt to take power by conspiratorial means]. In the ensuing decade, it secured financial support only from a few individual capitalists until 1932. The bourgeoisie of Germany hesitated for a long time before it accepted the instrumentality of Hitler; for fifteen years it preferred to lean on the social democratic leaders. But at the height of the world economic crisis, technically advanced Germany, handicapped by the Versailles Treaty in its imperialist conflicts with England, France and America, could ‘solve’ its crisis temporarily, in capitalist terms, only by destroying the workers organisations which had existed for three-fourths of a century.
Fascism is that special form of capitalist domination which the bourgeoisie finally resorts to when the continued existence of capitalism is incompatible with the existence of organised workers. Fascism is resorted to when the concessions, which are the product of the activities of the trade unions and political parties of labour, become an intolerable burden on the capitalist rulers, hence intolerable to the further existence of capitalism. For the working class, at this point, the issue is inexorably posed for immediate solution: either fascism or socialism.” (Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain, page 2, Felix Morrow, New Park Publications.)
By the 1930’s this was the question posed for the Spanish workers. The Spanish economy had been in permanent crisis since the end of the First World War. Manufacturing industry had developed somewhat, particularly in Catalonia and the Basque regions of the north, but 70% of the population were poor peasants mostly working as paid wage-labourers on huge estates, most of which were heavily mortgaged to the banks. In spite of appearances, therefore, Spain was essentially a capitalist country. Agriculture accounted for over half the national income and two-thirds of exports, but there was stiff competition on the world market and capitalism could only survive by cutting wage levels which necessitated crushing the trade unions and peasant organisations. In 1931 there were huge strikes and insurrectionary struggles, the result of which was to depose the monarchy and found a republic with a government consisting of a coalition of bourgeois liberal parties. The workers were led by various parties: Due to the large peasant agricultural population there was a large anarchist party, and there was the Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista, (POUM), a Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the main trade union which was the National Confederation of Labour, (CNT), and a small section of the International Left Opposition, (ILO). The POUM was associated with neither the Comintern nor the ILO, but it had some degree of solidarity with the latter. A Popular Front came into being consisting of two bourgeois liberal parties, socialists, representatives of the CNT, and the Communist Party, and in February 1936 the Popular Front elected to form the government of the Republic.
The record of this Republican Government, of which the Stalinist Communist Party was a part, is one of brutal oppression of the workers. Demands for the re-distribution of the land were ignored, strikes were declared illegal, martial law was declared, and demonstrations and meetings violently broken up. When, on 17th. July 1936, the fascists made their bid for power the government gave them every assistance. Having censored warnings of the event from socialist newspapers and refused to distribute arms to workers organisations, it gave assurances that everything was in order. During the hours when General Franco was bringing forces from Spanish Morocco it issued the following statement:-
“The Government acknowledges the offers of support which it has received [from the workers organisations] and, while being grateful for them, declares that the best aid that can be given to the Government is to guarantee the normality of daily life, in order to set a high example of serenity and of confidence in the means of the military strength of the state” (Claridad, 18th July 1936)
But the military strength of the state was now at the disposal of the fascists and coming to slaughter the workers! What kind of a government anaesthetises the working class in the face of such mortal danger, and, the most burning question of all, what was the Stalinist Communist Party doing is such a government? The answer is simple, it was there because the Comintern leaders wanted it there, because they had already decided that it was in their own best interests to make sure that the bourgeoisie retain power in Spain, and if that meant fascist dictatorship then so be it. The role of the Communist Party and the socialists was to legitimise the government in the eyes of the workers and maintain their allegiance to it even though it was clearly not going to oppose the fascists. On 18th. July, as the army was advancing on the capital under Franco's command, the Communist Party and the Socialists issued the following joint statement:-
“The moment is a difficult one but by no means desperate. The Government is certain that it has sufficient resources to overcome the criminal attempt. In the eventuality that the resources of the Government be not sufficient, the republic has the solemn promise of the Popular Front, which gathers under its discipline the whole proletariat, resolved serenely and dispassionately to intervene in the struggle as quickly as its intervention is to be called for … The Government commands and the Popular Front obeys.”
A neat division of labour; The Communist Party keeps the workers subservient to the Republican Government, and the Government submits to the fascists, but it didn’t work because the workers took the initiative into their own hands. First, the workers in Barcelona stormed the barracks and armed themselves, and after dealing with the local garrison quickly gained control of the whole of Catalonia. The situation was the same in Madrid, and in Valencia the soldiers shot their officers and distributed arms to the workers. In the navy the sailors shot their officers and took command of the ships. At the same time a workers militia army was coming into being to defeat the city garrisons and the forces coming from Morocco under Franco, revolutionary organisations formed all over the country. Peasants organised in revolutionary village committees took over the land and the workers took over the factories, supplies were ensured and order maintained by a policing system. All this left the Republican Government completely isolated and impotent with no military forces of its own, so that by this time a situation of dual power had arisen and the question of state power was immediately posed. Would the ruling class continue to rule through the old bourgeois state system, now organised along fascist lines, or would the workers overthrow the old state system and construct a new state based on their revolutionary committees, as the Russian workers had done with their system of Soviets?
Unfortunately there was one essential element missing from the equation to complete the revolutionary process, a strong and well trained party armed with a revolutionary theory capable of leading the masses to victory, a Marxist party of the Bolshevik type. As a result the workers could not break from the influence of the bourgeois forces centred round the Republican Government and achieve the necessary class based central organisation at the national level, and this tragic circumstance gave the Communist Party time to organise and prepare its betrayal. Compared to the POUM and the Anarchists the Communist Party was small and had little influence, but under the command of dubious “instructors”, in other words murderous GPU agents sent from Moscow, it began a crash programme of recruitment. As they had done in the Soviet Union, the Stalinists based themselves on bourgeois elements rather than the working class. With unlimited funds and resources dispensed by the “instructors” they recruited right wing trade union leaders and forces from small traders’ organisations and business men, and organised break-away unions of rich peasants who were opposed to collectivisation. A trickle of arms and supplies began to arrive from Moscow, but far from being of any real use these turned out to be a Trojan horse. At the first sign of insubordination to the Party the tap would be turned off, hence the workers were blackmailed into subservience.
The key question, as in all revolutions, was the question of the state. If the workers had managed to consolidate their militias and committees into a working state machine, and, crucially, to nationalise the banking system so as to dispossess the ruling class and to ensure finance for their own state forces, the revolution might well have been complete. Many workers, including the ILO and members of the POUM, were calling for soviets to oust the Republican Government and take state power as the Russian workers had done, but the POUM and CNT leaders, maintaining that conditions were different in Spain, made the fatal error of trying to achieve power within the parliamentary type Republican Government system which could never be anything but an instrument of bourgeois rule. By failing to take the soviet road they left the Republican Government time to reconstruct a police force with the help of the Soviet Union who supplied it with arms and equipment including machine guns and armoured cars. A new Cabinet, which included two Communist Party members, was formed on 4th. September 1936 and with armed bodies of men now at its disposal it dismantled the workers organisations step by strep. First it decreed that the Militia Committees were dissolved and condemned any resistance as fascism. Then it issued an order that all arms must be handed in within eight days, again accusing those who refused of fascism.
At this point the role of the Stalinist Communist Party in the civil war became explicit. It submitted completely to the counter-revolution Republican Government by placing its Party militias under its control and calling for a ban on all political discussion in the army. One of the most important mouthpieces of the Comintern, the French Communist Party paper L’Humanité, bluntly spelt out the Stalinist policy in August 1936:-
“The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Spain requests us to inform the public, in reply to the fantastic and tendentious reports published by certain newspapers, that the Spanish people are not striving for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but know only one aim: the defence of the republican order, while protecting property.”
It is clear that the “certain newspapers”, which in fact were those of the POUM and other workers parties, were quite correct, since the workers had spontaneously built their own forces of state rule in their committees and the militias, and taken over land, factories, transport etc. “Defence of the republican order” meant submitting to the rule of the bourgeoisie under the parliamentary system, and “protecting property” meant protecting the private property, factories land etc., of the capitalist system. Clearly the statement was aimed at deceiving the workers and reassuring the bourgeoisie, and at the same time making the intentions of the Communist Party clear. This was followed on 17th. December by an even more explicit statement in Pravda:-
“As for Catalonia, the purging of the Trotskyists and the Anarcho-Syndicalists has begun; it will be conducted with the same energy with which it was conducted in the USSR.”
We have already discovered what form this “energy” took in the USSR – lies, false accusation and imprisonment, torture, and murder on a mass scale, and it had indeed already begun. While the Republican Government looked the other way the Communist Party, under the supervision of Stalin’s GPU “instructors”, formed terrorist bands which were equipped with private prisons and torture chambers. In March 1936 a gang of Stalinists, including the Mayors of Villanueva and Villamayor, were found guilty in a republican court of rape, extortion, and the murder of political enemies including 16 members of the CNT. Five of the gang were condemned to death and eight others imprisoned, and there were other similar cases and countless reports of such activities which the Republican authorities failed to investigate. In August 1937 the leader of the POUM, Andre Nin, was arrested by the police and handed over to the GPU who tortured and murdered him.
Why did the Republican Government, faced with fascist uprisings in the cities and the advance of Franco’s army, crush the only organisations that could defend legality and democracy, the workers organisations and militias? The answer is simple enough. The bourgeoisie had more to lose from a workers state and social revolution than they had from fascist dictatorship, which after all would be a system of rule based on their own class. In any case by concentrating their forces against the workers militias they weakened the front against Franco’s forces sufficiently to ensure his victory. As for the Stalinist leaders of the Comintern, it made no difference to them whether democracy or fascism triumphed, so long as the workers did not take power, and that is the essence of their Popular Front tactic. However, the Stalinist policy of protecting the international bourgeoisie from the revolutionary working class in order to maintain peaceful relations with them was about to be put to a severe test.
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IV. The Second World War.
It was not until the late 1930's that the mortal threat of a German invasion impinged on Stalin's mind, but the only force on earth that could have prevented it, the German working class, was already defeated, due to Stalin’s disastrously treacherous leadership. In 1939, having stood aside while the Nazis herded the communists, the social democrats and trade union leaders into the death camps, Stalin signed a pact of “non-aggression” with Hitler. The idea that a mere piece of paper could stop the Nazis waging war on the Soviet Union was surely the crassest of all Stalin's mistakes and when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 it came as a complete surprise to him. Nonetheless, as we shall see, the decisive advantages of socialised planned economy were demonstrated in breath-taking fashion during the war and ultimately enabled the Soviet Union to crush the Nazi war machine, but first we must understand the essence of the conflict.
On 3rd. September 1939, when Britain declared war on Germany for the second time, the world learned that the First World War had decided nothing. In 1938 Germany had once again been impelled to expand her territory in order to survive, by annexing Austria in March, the Sudetenland in October, and by invading Czechoslovakia in September. Finally, when Hitler's Germany invaded Poland on 1st. September 1939 it became necessary once again for the British ruling class to defend its imperial interests by means of war, because if Germany were to succeed in her war aims she would become the most powerful imperialist power in the world, threatening to dominate the ocean trading routes and eclipse the British Empire, now already in decline. The most important attribute of an imperialist power is that it is an exporter of capital, and until the crisis of the 1930's Britain had been a net exporter of capital, although at a much slower rate after the First World War, but by 1939 she had become a net importer of capital, with an annual deficit of £50 million in her current balance of payments. Moreover, Britain depended heavily on foreign trade just to survive, since industry depended on imports of raw material, and two thirds of the food supply had to be imported. Add to this the fact that an important part of Britain’s income was earned from shipping foreign trade, and it is clear that Britain had to oppose the explosive expansion of German imperialism by war if necessary. This time, however, there was much more at stake, because with the development of technology and the productive forces since 1914 the antagonism between the imperialist powers in the struggle for markets had become fiercer than ever, and more importantly, one sixth part of the world's surface was the possession of the working class, the workers state of Soviet Russia, and therefore unavailable for capitalist exploitation.
This latter consideration, the necessity from the imperialist point of view to overthrow the socialist system and restore private property relations and capitalist exploitation in the Soviet Union, was an objective held in common by all the contending imperialist powers. In 1931 Trotsky had characterised the military threat to the Soviet Union posed by imperialism:-
“None of the ‘normal’ bourgeois governments can at the present time risk a war against the USSR: for it would bring with it the threat of unforeseen internal complications. But once Hitler comes to power and proceeds to crush the vanguard of the German workers, pulverising and demoralising the whole proletariat for many years to come, the Fascist government alone will be the only government capable of waging war against the USSR. Naturally, it will act under such circumstances in a common front with Poland and Romania, with the other border states as well as with Japan in the far east. In this enterprise, the Hitler government would only be the executive organ of world capitalism as a whole. Clemenceau, Millerand, Lloyd George, and Wilson could not directly carry on a war against the Soviet government; but they were able, in the course of three years, to support the armies of Kolchak, Wrangel and Denekin. If victorious, Hitler will become the Super-Wrangel of the world bourgeoisie.” (Germany 1931 to 1932, p. 17, L. Trotsky, New Park. Our emphasis.)
This remarkably accurate prediction brilliantly explains the underlying politics of the period. In the coming war the imperialist powers would fight among themselves to re-divide the world, but the very existence of the Soviet Union was a deadly threat to the whole system of imperialism since it was a workers state and hence a revolutionary example to workers everywhere, and at the same time it was above all necessary for the imperialists to win back for capitalist exploitation the territory taken from it by the working class by way of the Russian Revolution. The “three years” were of course the years of the civil war during which the western powers tried to defeat the Revolution by invading the Soviet Union and supporting the reactionary White forces. In so far as the Second World War was aimed at crushing the Soviet Union, it was nothing but a continuation of the civil war and the wars of intervention, the class struggle itself on a global scale.
The British ruling class was anxious to see Germany wage war on the Soviet Union and win back this territory for capitalist exploitation. The historian A.J.P. Taylor, then a young man, said of this time, "I believed that if Great Britain were involved in the war it would be on Hitler's side against Russia." (Quoted in Anthony Blunt - His Lives by Miranda Carter.) However, this would mean that Germany would emerge from the conflict by far the most powerful country in Europe, second in the world only to America, with a powerful navy to dominate the sea routes, and the British Empire would be finished. This contradiction was reflected inside the Tory Party and split it down the middle. There were those who supported its leader, Neville Chamberlain, who pursued a policy of appeasing Hitler by giving in to his territorial demands in Eastern Europe, happy in the knowledge that his main target was the Soviet Union, and that he would indeed prove to be, as Trotsky explained, a Super-Wrangel who would give back the territory of the Soviet Union to capitalism. The opposition within the Tory Party was led by Winston Churchill, who, with a deeper grasp of the situation, realised that the threat Germany posed to the British Empire was so great that it must be stopped immediately, and that the problem of Soviet Russia would have to wait.
This explains why, in the first instance, the British ruling class gave Hitler every assistance in expanding his territory to the east, and why Chamberlain flew to Germany repeatedly to meet Hitler to discuss his claims, in particular with respect to the Sudetenland, a region in Czechoslovakia adjacent to Germany where many of the inhabitants speak German, without even consulting the Czechs or the Soviet Union, while at the same time ignoring the repeated attempts of the Soviet Union to reach agreement on a strategy to contain Nazi aggression. Had he wished Chamberlain could have had Hitler overthrown and prevented the Second World War altogether, because on 5th. September 1938 he received a visit from Theodor Kordt of the German embassy in London, who informed him that Hitler intended to invade Czechoslovakia by 1st. October, but that the High Command of the German Army was ready to refuse to act and depose Hitler if he gave the order, if only Britain and France would support their coup. The British response to this electrifying news was leaked to the Times in which the following editorial appeared on 7th. September:-
“It might be worthwhile for the Czechoslovak Government to consider whether they should exclude altogether the project, which has found favour in some quarters, to make Czechoslovakia a more homogeneous state by the secession of that fringe of alien populations who are contiguous to the nation with which they are united by race … The advantages to Czechoslovakia of becoming a homogeneous state might conceivably outweigh the obvious disadvantages of losing the Sudeten German district of the borderland.” (Quoted in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, page 382, William Shirer.)
populations" was obviously a guarded reference to the German speakers in the
Sudetenland, so why not say so? The implication is clear; the British government
publically giving its approval to Hitler’s claim to the Sudetenland, and in the following paragraph Shirer provides the reason:-
“There was no mention in the editorial of the obvious fact that by ceding the Sudetenland to Germany the Czechs would lose both the natural mountain defences of Bohemia and their ‘Maginot Line’ of fortifications and be henceforth defenceless against NAZI Germany.” (Ibid.)
What Shirer does not seem to appreciate, however, is that the removal of the Czech defences rendered Poland as well as Czechoslovakia defenceless and opened the road to the Soviet Union, and surely this was the British intention since it could make no difference to them where the Sudeten Germans placed their allegiance. In any case the fact that the offer of the German Army Command was ignored speaks for itself. On 28th. September 1938 Hitler invited Chamberlain, Daladier of France, and the fascist Mussolini of Italy, to a conference in Munich at which it was agreed that Germany should occupy the Sudetenland without even consulting the Czechs or the Soviet Union. Hitler’s public stance was that this was his “last territorial claim”, but it was an obvious strategic advance in preparation for invasion of the Soviet Union and it is inconceivable that this was not understood by Chamberlain. Following this conference Hitler and Chamberlain signed a peace agreement which clearly demonstrates the attitude of the British ruling class to Hitlerite fascism at the time. The text is as follows:-
“We, the German Fuehrer and Chancellor, and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting to-day, and are agreed in recognising that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe. We regard the agreement signed last night, and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one and other again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.”
Chamberlain returned to Britain and proclaimed to a curious little gaggle of cheering supporters gathered for a photo opportunity that there would be "peace for our time", but six months later German troops occupied the remains of Czechoslovakia. It was clearly not going to be “peace for our time”, and the NAZIS continued their war of manoeuvre in the east by provoking hostilities with Poland and occupying Lithuania, thus surrounding Poland on three sides. Clearly Poland was the real gateway to the Soviet Union but, after coming under pressure in Parliament from those who wished to prevent Germany becoming a more powerful imperialist power than Britain, by now a majority, Chamberlain was forced to conclude a pact with the Poles on 30th. March 1939, guaranteeing to come to their defence if
Germany invaded. France was also a signatory to the pact, but it is significant that the Soviet Union, the only power that could come to the aid of Poland if only for geographical reasons, was not even consulted.
When Hitler invaded Poland on 1st. September Chamberlain was forced to declare war on Germany. The Chamberlain Government staggered on till Hitler invaded Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and France on 9th. May 1940, proving at last that Germany was as much a threat to England and its Empire as it was to the USSR. Chamberlain was forced to resign from the Tory leadership in favour of Churchill who formed a National Government which took office on 15th. May. The anti-German faction had gained the ascendency over the anti-Soviet faction. Bourgeois historians would have us believe that Britain fought Germany in order to restore democracy in Europe, but in truth the British ruling class had no objection to fascism as such, as the agreement shows. The real reason was, as with the previous war, that Germany was rapidly becoming the most powerful imperialist power in the world, threatening to dominate the ocean trading routes and eclipse the British Empire, now already in decline.
Once again the capitalist rulers of the various countries could not go to war between themselves without going to war on their common enemy, the working class. The class war in Britain during this period took a different form to that in Germany, where by this time the working class had already been defeated. The British ruling class had no need of a fascist party, it could rely on the Labour Party to dupe the workers into accepting all the privations of war, and to their eternal shame the Communist Party of Great Britain, (CPGB), did the same. Once again industry was militarised. The Labour leaders joined the Tories in the national government and on 22nd. May 1940 Attlee steered the Emergency Powers Bill through Parliament in one day, which stripped the workers of all their rights and gave the government the power to direct any worker to undertake any work in any location, and to requisition property and production facilities. Military conscription began, and all unmarried women between the ages of 20 and 30 were conscripted into industry. The man in charge of this onslaught against the workers was Labourite Ernest Bevin, a leader of the Transport and General Workers Union and the Minister of Labour. On 24th. May he whipped the unions into line at a meeting of 2000 union executives, representing 150 unions, at the Albert Hall, saying:
“I have to ask you to place yourselves at the disposal of the state. We are socialists and this is the test of our socialism ... if our movement and our class rise with all their energy now and save the people of this country from disaster, the country will always turn with confidence to the people who saved them.”
Such a travesty could only have been uttered by a leader of the Labour Party, and it will take some unravelling. The justification frequently advanced by Labourites for all this is that it was a war against fascism, but as we have shown it was a war between imperialist powers, and the fight against fascism is by its nature a struggle between the classes, not countries, and the Labour Party had never taken any serious part in it. How was it possible for Bevin to fight fascism by going to war on the working class and imposing upon it what are after all fascist measures ? The incorporation of the unions into the state which Bevin called for is one of the cornerstones of the fascist system, so, far from fighting fascism he was promoting it. If the Trade Union movement and the working class must “save the people of the country”, does this mean that the trade union movement and the working class on the one hand, that is, by any estimate 95% of the people, and the “people of the country” on the other hand, are two different things? If the “country” will turn with confidence to the people who saved it, does this mean that the “country” and the working class people who saved it are two different things? It seems impossible to interpret Bevin’s treacherous sophistry in any other way; in which case, what are these strange abstractions, the “country” and the “people”? Clearly they are ciphers for the ruling class and capitalism, and this is what Bevin wished the trade unionists and workers to save by accepting slave-labour conditions in the factories and mines and fighting and dying at the front. The only disaster which threatened was of course the war itself, and the ruling class as a whole was to blame for this, its division into those who spoke German and those who spoke English being of only relative importance.
The incorporation of the unions into the state, in other words the militarisation of the working class in Hitlerite fashion, was provided for by way of the “Conditions of Employment and National Arbitration Order 1305”, imposed in July 1940 under The Emergency Powers Act, and Bevin, as Minister of Labour, used his powers to the full. All trade disputes had to be referred to the National Arbitration Tribunal whose decisions were binding, which meant that all strikes were illegal. In spite of this workers continued to fight for their rights and unofficial strikes continued to occur, and as a result 6,300 workers were prosecuted with a conviction rate of 81%
The role of the Communist Party of Great Britain during the war years is most instructive. By now the communist parties of the world had abandoned their role of revolutionary leadership and become submissive instruments of Soviet foreign policy under the Comintern; every move they made was directed from the Kremlin and tailor made to serve the interests of the bureaucracy. At first the policy dictated by the Kremlin with respect to the war between Britain and Germany which began in 1939 had the appearance of the correct revolutionary defeatist policy; under instruction from their bosses in Moscow the CPGB advised the British workers to refuse to support the Churchill government and the war and to turn the war into a war against the ruling class. This was of course entirely inconsistent with the previous “popular front” policy which had been so disastrous in Spain, but significantly it was consistent with the Kremlin policy of friendly relations with the Nazis which culminated with the pact of non-aggression agreed between Hitler and Stalin on 13th August 1940, since it undermined Britain’s capacity to wage war on Germany.
Incredible as it may seem, the content of the appearance of the Kremlin policy of revolutionary defeatism was actually an attempt to tie the British working class to the NAZI war effort!
However, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in July 1941 there was a sudden panic-stricken reversal, and under orders from the Kremlin the CPGB pulled out all the stops to harness the British working class to the war effort. In a pamphlet entitled Britain’s Chance Has Come, (chance to do what?), published July 1941, their leader, Harry Pollitt, said:-
“There can only be one consideration, whether people mean to defeat Hitler or openly or covertly endeavour to sabotage the common victory of the British and Soviet people. This is why a fight for a united national front means support for Churchill’s government and all measures for a common victory.”
Stalin, having long ago abandoned the internationalist class perspective and adopted the narrow nationalistic outlook, gravitated to the western imperialists as allies on the simplistic basis that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The allies, particularly Churchill, took a different view. He and American President Roosevelt immediately resolved to support the Soviet Union by providing as much by way of supplies as possible, but there was a catch. In a radio broadcast to the nation in which Churchill announced the policy of support for “Russia” as he insisted on calling the Soviet Union, he said:-
“The Nazi regime is indistinguishable from the worst features of Communism. It is devoid of all theme and principle except appetite and racial domination. It excels all forms of human wickedness in the efficiency of its cruelty and ferocious aggression. No one has been a more consistent opponent of Communism than I have for the last twenty-five years. I will unsay no word that I have spoken about it. But all this fades away before the spectacle which is now unfolding. The past, with its crimes, its follies, and its tragedies, flashes away.” (The Second World War, Vol. III, Page 331, Winston Churchill.)
Such ignorant and vitriolic anti-communism can only be explained by naked class self-interest, since to equate communism with Nazism is to shut one’s eyes to the history of the twentieth century thus far which shows beyond doubt that communism and Nazism are mutually exclusive opposites. Communism, (or more correctly, progress towards communism), can only be based on state power for the working class, a “workers state”, which was true of the Soviet Union even under the Stalinist dictatorship, while all forms of fascism rest on unopposed state power for the capitalist ruling class. Who but the working class in Germany had courageously opposed Hitler’s rise to power? Certainly not Chamberlain, Churchill or the British Tory party, which latter had pursued a policy of alliance with Hitler under Chamberlain’s leadership. The sophistry of Churchill's rhetoric is any case obvious; why should the crimes of the past "flash away" simply because new ones are being committed? The content of Churchill’s contradictory point of view is explained by the flowery sentences that followed:-
“I see Russian soldiers standing on the threshold of their native land, guarding the fields which their fathers have tilled from time immemorial …”
For Churchill the Soviet system of state power for the working class was an unfortunate temporary affliction from which “Mother Russia” must be rescued by all possible means. He had, after all, been one of the instigators of the war of intervention in 1918. Under the circumstances Churchill’s support for the Soviet war effort was strategically expedient, not political, he simply wanted Soviet forces to engage his enemy on another front. Ideologically and politically Churchill was in full agreement with Hitler, the only difference being that the latter, being at war with the Soviet Union rather than in alliance with it, was in a position to give practical expression to the rabid anti-communist views they held in common. In his authoritative book Lord Russell of Liverpool clearly expresses the real nature of the Nazi onslaught on the Soviet Union:-
“Finally, it was decided at the highest level that the political commissars of the Red Army would not be recognised as prisoners of war or evacuated to the rear areas. They would be ‘liquidated’”. (The Scourge of the Swastika, page52)
Russell goes on to inform us that the only person to raise objection to this criminal policy was the Nazi Admiral Canaris, but the responsible commander in chief, Field Marshall Keitel, was adamant:-
“These objections arise from the military concept of chivalrous warfare. This is the destruction of an ideology; therefore I approve and support these measures.
Stalin was surely one of the most incompetent military leaders in history. In order to consolidate his personal power Stalin had by this time purged the CPGB of virtually all the honest communists and many thousands of them had been assassinated or thrown into labour camps. All the talented leaders of the Red Army had suffered the same fate, consequently when Hitler invaded on 22nd. June 1941 the Soviet defences were hopelessly unprepared and immediately suffered terrible defeats. Within hours the Soviet airforce was virtually destroyed on the ground and the Nazi ground force had penetrated deep into Soviet territory. As news of defeat after defeat reached Stalin he sank into a fit of despair and on 28th June he retired to his dacha for several days, convinced that the war was already lost. Fortunately the members of his Politbureau and the more able generals such as Zhukov were not so pessimistic and they managed to goad him into action and he began to lead in his own inimitable way, by bullying, threats and coercion. The defeats continued and by October 1941 the Nazis had reached the suburbs of Moscow, Leningrad was encircled and hundreds of thousands had starved to death.
In general Stalin’s bureaucratic leadership of the war was hopelessly inefficient and inept, but what happened next constitutes a historic lesson for mankind. On December 5th 1941 the Soviet army counter-attacked outside Moscow on three fronts and the Nazis were thrown back 250 kilometres. The turning point in the war had come, and although there were further defeats, the cause of which was as often as not Stalin’s personal leadership and the resulting confusion among the military leaders, the tide began to turn. On November 23rd the following year the Nazi 6th. Army was surrounded at Stalingrad and ultimately crushed. In 1943 three great battles, at Kursk, Orel and Kharkov irrevocably smashed the Nazi war machine and sealed the fate of Hitlerism. At Kursk, the biggest tank battle in history, the Soviets astonished the world by fielding a vast army of T-34 tanks which were universally recognised to be the finest tank of the war and which outnumbered and outclassed the Nazi force of the much vaunted Tiger tank with its fearsome 88mm gun. Soviet Artillery now unexpectedly appeared in massive strength, and Soviet built aircraft outnumbered their enemy by two to one. Where had all this suddenly come from? The Allied leaders, no less than the Nazis, were astonished, but they could not fail to understand that this was not so much a “Russian” victory, but above all a Soviet socialist victory. How had they achieved it?
As soon as it became clear that the enemy was going to penetrate deep into Soviet territory a massive operation began to uproot virtually the whole of manufacturing industry and move it east of the Ural mountains deep into the Asian hinterland. By January 1942 1,523 new factories had been built together with supporting infrastructure and in a little over a year vast supplies of tanks, guns, aircraft and supplies of all kinds had been delivered to the front. This great organisational feat is unprecedented in human history and has not been equalled since. Here is the historic lesson for mankind referred to above, and it is not so much a military as an economic lesson. No system based on private enterprise and the free market could come anywhere near such an organisational and productive effort; the overwhelming superiority and productivity of state owned centrally planned economy had been demonstrated once for all time. It was the death knell of capitalism.
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V. Post War Reconstruction
The Soviet advance was now unstoppable and by June 1944 the Nazis had mostly been driven out of the Soviet Union, their defeat was certain and the D-Day landings in Normandy were rendered strategically un-necessary. The only effect of the latter was to win territory for the Allies on mainland Europe in order to prevent the Soviets from advancing all the way to the English Channel. It can of course be said that the western front engaged forces which could otherwise have been deployed in the east, but the substance of the matter is rather the opposite since between June and December the Nazi high command transferred 60 divisions and 13 brigades from the west to the east. With the end of the war in sight the Allied leaders turned their attention to the task of post-war reconstruction. In 1943 Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt met in Teheran to decide on the fate of Germany after the war. In his history of the war Churchill reports a one-to-one discussion he had with Stalin at Teheran concerning future control over Germany in which he said:-
“Our duty is to make the world safe for at least fifty years by German disarmament, by preventing re-armament, by supervision of German factories, by forbidding all aviation, and by territorial changes of a far reaching character. It all comes back to the question whether Britain, the United States, and the USSR can keep a close friendship and supervise Germany in their mutual interest”. (The Second World War, Vol. 5, page 318, Winston Churchill)
In the first place Churchill’s hopelessly formal and eclectic solution to the problem, standing over German capitalism with a gun to make sure it did not get back on its feet, amounted to nothing more than a supine admission that the Second World War had decided no more than had the First, and that the fight for world domination and the danger of fascism will never go away so long as capitalism remains the dominant form of economy. Fascism, after all, is nothing more than the natural political expression of capitalism which is bound to recur every time its inner crisis manifests itself in acute form. Similarly, national wars are the ultimate expression of the capitalist principle of competition. Secondly, Churchill could not but recognise that in the Soviet Union he was dealing with a mighty economic and military power and that he had no choice but to negotiate. Stalin’s reply was entirely in keeping with his ignorant nationalistic outlook which was in essence no different to Churchill’s.
“All very good but not sufficient” (Ibid.)
Churchill was doubtless surprised and relieved to find that Stalin would approach the problems of post war re-construction in nationalistic rather than class terms and that he would be so accommodating in this respect. They met again in Moscow in 1944, to begin talks on how the world should be carved up between the victors. For the imperialists it was a simple matter of rendering Germany harmless and grabbing as much territory for exploitation as possible, but while it was certainly necessary for the Soviet Union to ensure her safety from future German aggression, territorial expansion through purely military means held no real advantage. The only real guarantee for the Soviet Union, from the military, political and economic points of view, would have been successful revolutions by the working class in other countries, in particular in Germany, but while this would have guaranteed the future of the Soviet Union it would of course have been disaster for Stalin and his opportunist bureaucratic cast system, since truly democratic workers states on the borders of the Soviet Union would have been a powerful political lever in the hands of the Soviet workers in their struggle to overthrow the bureaucracy. Let us see how Stalin approached his problem.
At the Moscow conference Churchill scribbled his proposal for dividing up the world into what he called “spheres of influence” like this:-
Great Britain 90%
(in accord with USA)
It is hard to believe that Churchill seriously expected such a cynical proposal to find practical application, it seems more likely that he was trying to pull the wool over Stalin’s eyes and succeeding very well. Certainly Stalin immediately agreed, but what on earth did “spheres of influence” mean? Would these countries be capitalist, or would they be workers states with socialised property relations? Certainly in the final result it would not have been possible for them to be 90% one and 10% the other, in the very nature of things they would have to be wholly one or the other. In any case, as we shall see, Churchill’s proposal was of no help at all when it came time to solve the problem in practice after the war.
At yet another conference at Yalta in February 1945 there was further discussion concerning guarantees for lasting peace. President Roosevelt presented proposals for the setting up of the United Nations with its Security Council and voting procedure which provided the power of veto for the Soviet Union, America, Britain and France. Of course the attempt to guarantee peace by formal organisational means in the twentieth century world of predatory imperialism was a Utopian nonsense, as Stalin implicitly recognised in his reply:-
“All of us want to secure peace for at least fifty years …” (Op. Cit., Vol. 6, page 310)
Why only fifty years? Clearly everyone present understood that sooner or later new wars were inevitable, but since no one present had a solution to the problem, and worse still secretly reserved the right to wage war if he thought it necessary in his own interests, the matter was left hanging in the air. The end of this particular war came in 1945 with the triumphal entry of the Soviet forces into Berlin and a crashing military and moral defeat for fascism. Hitler was forced to commit suicide and have his remains destroyed, and Goebbels and is wife Magda did the same after murdering their six children with poison. Hitler’s last act was to appoint Admiral Doenitz his successor, and in a radio broadcast to the nation the latter announced:-
“It is my first task to save Germany from destruction by the advancing Bolshevik enemy. For this aim alone the military struggle continues. As far and as long as the achievement of this aim is impeded by the British and Americans, we shall be forced to carry on our defensive fight against them as well. Under such conditions, however, the Anglo-Americans will continue the war not for their own peoples but solely for the spreading of bolshevism in Europe.” (Our emphasis).
This view neatly
encapsulates the essence of the Second World War from the NAZI viewpoint, but
Doenitz had misunderstood the situation in the western countries. At the end of
the First World War, we recall, before the ink was dry on the armistice the allies made
common cause with Germany against
the Bolsheviks, but this time the trick could not be repeated. Even the
dull-witted Churchill could not fail to understand that the British working
class was by now full of admiration for the victorious Red Army, and in any case
they could never be persuaded to act together with what was still at this stage
Nazi Germany. There was no choice but to defeat the Nazis as quickly as
possible so as to press on as far across Europe as
possible to stop the advance of the Red Army.
The re-construction of the world by the so-called “great powers” which began as the war came to an end deserves close study since the profoundly false idea that the Stalinist Kremlin dictatorship can be equated to communism and world revolution was clearly revealed in practice on an international scale. Now that the reconstruction of Europe had become an immediate practical task everyone’s thinking on the matter became at least a little clearer. Churchill’s “spheres of influence” proposal was obviously impracticable in the form in which it had been made since capitalism and socialism are mutually exclusive systems and influence could not be shared within one country. As explained above Stalin could not allow the workers to take power in the countries adjacent to the Soviet border without placing his bureaucratic Kremlin dictatorship in danger. His solution was to support the return of the reactionary capitalist regimes that had existed before the war, in the belief that he could hold the working class in check by subjecting them to the rule of capital. Further, he expected to maintain friendly relations with the countries on the Soviet border and that they would act as a “buffer” between the Soviet Union and the imperial powers of the west. In other words, he expected to achieve harmonious political relations with these states without addressing the conflict between the different social relations, the private ownership of the means of production in the border states and the socialised relations in the soviet Union, a situation that the West was bound sooner or later to take advantage of to undermine the Soviet Union.
The case of Rumania, the first foreign country occupied by the Red Army in its pursuit of the retreating Nazi forces, clearly demonstrates Stalin’s hopeless ignorance of the class based antagonisms which shape the course of history. In a speech on April 2nd. 1944 the Soviet foreign secretary Molotov said:-
“The Soviet Government declares that it does not pursue the aim of acquiring any part of Rumanian territory or of changing the existing social order in Rumania.”
The Red Army then proceeded to smash the peasant liberation army led by Iuliu Maniu which had resisted the Nazis, and to install a reactionary monarchy under King Michael. Maniu was accused of being a fascist and jailed for life. It was only later, when Churchill made his famous speech at Fulton in America about an “iron curtain descending across Europe” and the aggressive expansionism of imperialism became obvious that Stalin adopted the measure of imposing his bureaucratic system upon the states bordering the Soviet Union by force and to integrate them into the Soviet economy. In accordance with this strategy the Baltic States, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, were integrated into the Soviet Union under puppet governments imposed by the Red Army and the notorious NKVD security force. Hungary, the eastern part of Germany and Czechoslovakia shortly suffered the same fate. The Soviet Union had occupied the eastern part of Poland prior to the war under the Hitler/Stalin pact, so it was only necessary to impose the government of the eastern part which had been based at Lublin over the whole country.
The working class in those countries which were to fall into the western sphere of influence still presented something of a problem for Stalin. Since he would have no direct hands-on military and political control in those countries, might not the communist parties and workers in those countries succeed in taking power and building socialism? And might not those countries become a basis for opposition to his rule in the Soviet Union? Fortunately the communist parties in western countries were already in the habit of blindly taking orders from Moscow, so all that was necessary was to give instructions that the return of capitalist governments was to be secured at all costs no matter how reactionary they might be or how disastrous for the working class.
Stalin’s operation to deliver the Italian working class into the hands of the capitalists began as soon as it possibly could have done, in 1943 after the southern part of the country had been occupied by the Allies. Large areas of the country were in the hands of the communist party led partisan movement, and there were massive strikes in the Nazi occupied north. So far as the Italian workers were concerned there was no difference between fascism of the German variety and fascism of the Italian variety, the resistance struggle was simply a continuation of their resistance to Mussolini’s 20 year fascist dictatorship, and there was now every possibility that they could establish a workers state on soviet lines. At the same time elements within the capitalist class, including some members of the fascist party, now understood that fascism was finished in Europe and conspired to cobble together some sort of “democratic” system of rule.
One of the pre-war leaders of the Italian communist party, Palmiro Togliatti, had been in exile in Moscow during the war, and Stalin now sent him back to Italy charged with the responsibility of making sure that these fascist elements, and not the working class led by the communist party, should regain state power to preserve capitalist property relations. The Allies had set up a government in the south under the Italian king, (who, incidentally, had appointed Mussolini in 1922), and the fascist General Badoglio, and Togliatti’s job was to foist this government on the Italian workers in the teeth of opposition from the Italian communist party, left wing groups and the Socialist Party, who were calling for a republic. On 22nd. May 1943, in a publication called World News and Views, he wrote:-
“Among officers in the army and navy, the catholic bourgeoisie, monarchist circles, industrialists, intelligentsia, and in the fascist party, there is a growing number of those who realise the necessity for Italy to break with Germany …”
Such was the leadership Stalin’s man recommended to the Italian working class. The Soviet diplomat Vyshinsky met the fascist Badoglio in Algiers and diplomatic relations were established with the new monarchist regime which then came to power and in which Togliatti served as a minister.
The situation in France was much like that in Italy. This time Stalin’s man was the French communist party leader in exile Maurice Thorez, and once again large areas of France were under the administration of the communist led resistance who could have formed a socialist government when the Nazis left, but Thorez had orders to ensure that the French workers accepted the return of a capitalist regime. A communist party pamphlet entitled France’s Hour Has Struck, published in 1943 contained the following:-
“There is a barrier now, not between the ‘rights’ and the ‘lefts’ but between those who wish to fight for the independence of France and those who betray and sell out to the enemy … Placing the interests of the French nation above everything else, the French communists are closely collaborating even with those who, poisoned by a decade of Hitler propaganda, have dealt France a heavy blow by persecuting communists.”
This disgusting nationalism and denial of any inherent difference between the rights and lefts was of course the denial of the class struggle in general and the struggle against German and French fascism in particular. Who were “the enemy”? The Nazis? But there could be no question of a sell-out to them because their defeat at the hands of the Red Army was clearly only a matter of time. Those poor individuals who had been “poisoned by Hitler propaganda”, and who the workers were now expected to accept as leaders, were actually committed fascists in their own right, such as General Delattre de Tassigny, one of the leaders of the Vichy regime that had collaborated with the Nazis. In a speech in 1944 Thorez raised the demands for “one state, one army, one police force”, and supported the De Gaulle government. The one state to which he referred was of course a capitalist state, which he later joined as a vice president of France, a position from which he later gave full support to the French colonialist and anti-communist war in Viet Nam.
The assistance from the national communist parties which Stalin and his gang in the Kremlin had relied on in other countries was not available in Greece. Here the betrayal was perhaps the worst of all, firstly because the possibility of successful political and social revolution were better here than anywhere else, and secondly because the struggle reached the height of actual civil war and lives were lost.
There were two anti-Nazi resistance movements in Greece, both the size of a small army. There was the National Liberation Front, (E.A.M.), with its military wing, the Peoples National Army of Liberation, (E.L.A.S.), and the National Democratic Army, (E.D.E.S.). EAM and ELAS were communist organisations. When the Nazis invaded the King and his government went into exile, but EAM and ELAS set up a provisional government in the mountains and eventually drove the Nazis out and took control in 1944.
As soon as the communist resistance had liberated Athens Churchill began to engineer the return of the King’s government, but the resistance had not been fighting for that, they wanted a socialist republic. Since the resistance was virtually in control of the capital and country the return of the King's government had to be carried out under protection of a military operation, so British forces were brought in, supported by a brigade of Greek soldiers who had been fighting under British command in Italy, this latter in order to make it look like a genuinely Greek operation. The people of Athens responded to this incursion with a general strike and demonstrations which were put down by force and civil war began on December 3rd. 1944. It took large re-enforcements from Britain, and eventually American forces as well, to defeat the revolution and the civil war ended in 1949 with the loss of over 60,000 lives. There was serious press criticism of this brutal suppression in both England and America, and sympathy for the EAM among British troops, but how did the Kremlin react to the slaughter of the Greek communists? Churchill himself informs us:-
“The Times and the Manchester Guardian pronounced their censures upon what they considered our reactionary policy. Stalin however adhered strictly and faithfully to our agreement in October, [spheres of influence etc.], and during all the long weeks of fighting the Communists in the streets of Athens not one word of reproach came from Pravda or Isvestia.” (The Second World War, Vol. 6, page 255, Winston Churchill).
Churchill never tired of expressing his vitriolic hatred of communism, without, of course, having the slightest understanding of it or knowledge of its underlying scientific theory and historical necessity. Stalin, for his part, was in his own way just as ignorant, and it was upon the common ground of this ignorance that the two of them forged their working relationship. Stalin had no problem helping Churchill to rebuild European capitalism over the dead bodies of honest communists who had fought fascism and wanted to put an end to it for ever by destroying the capitalist soil that nurtures it, so long as Churchill would reciprocate by leaving him to rule in his own fiefdom in peace.
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VI. The Soviet Union After Stalin.
In the Soviet Union the slow business of recovery after the war began under a triple burden – the blockade by the west, (the “iron curtain”), the need to pour finance into defence against the western aggressive threat, and the dictatorial methods of the bureaucracy. Planners and industrialists who succeeded were rewarded with nothing but personal survival, while many who failed, generally through no fault of their own, were consigned to exile in the prison camp system where many were shot or simply perished under the harsh conditions. Then in 1953 came the death of Stalin, and such was his stature as a personal dictator that it was bound to change things since even those who had been closest to him, notably Beria, Malenkov, Molotov and Khrushchev, had nothing like his personal authority. In the power struggle that followed they each found it necessary to make concessions to the people and ease the repressions in order to gain support. Even Beria, who had been Stalin’s police chief and chief assassin, began to order the re-habilitation of individuals who had been falsely accused in the past, and releases from prison and exile of obviously innocent individuals, but it did him no good. There was no escaping the logic of the situation - if those who had been condemned were innocent then those who had condemned them were guilty. A scapegoat to take the blame for the horrors of the years of dictatorship was needed, and it turned out to be Beria himself. A plot was hatched, led by Khrushchev, and Beria was arrested in classic Stalinist fashion, charged with being an “enemy of the people”, and shot on December 24th. 1953 after a farcical trial.
On 5th. March 1953 Georgy Malenkov followed Stalin as the top Soviet Leader, but his appointment seems to have been a temporary measure since Khrushchev was appointed to the controlling position of First Secretary of the CPSU on 14th. October, and was later, in 1958, to become Chair of the Council of Ministers as well, but times had changed and it was no longer possible to rule as Stalin had done. The people of the Soviet Union, and for that matter the people of Europe, had lived through the war years in the hope of better times and were looking for improvements in their quality of life, and were likely to ask for a mile as soon as an inch was given. Indeed, when news of Stalin’s death reached forced labour camps rebellions broke out and continued into 1954 when they were put down with tanks and many died. At the same time there were strikes and anti-government demonstrations in the Soviet controlled German Democratic Republic and in Poland, and it wasn’t till 1956 that Khrushchev felt safe enough to begin a process of reform. At the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, in a closed session, he made what became known as his “secret speech”, beginning as follows:-
“We have to consider seriously and analyse correctly the crimes of the Stalin era in order that we may preclude any possibility of a repetition in any form whatever of what took place during the life of Stalin, who absolutely did not tolerate collegiality in leadership and in work, and who practiced brutal violence, not only toward everything which was opposed to him, but also toward that which seemed to his capricious and despotic character, contrary to his concepts.”
And here is the most telling part of his speech:-
“It was determined [on investigation] that of 139 members and candidates of the Party’s Central Committee who were elected at the 17th.  Congress, 98 persons. i.e. 70%, were arrested and shot (mostly in 1937 and 1938). What was the composition of the delegates to the 17th. Congress? It is known that 80% of the voting participants of the 17th. Congress joined the Party during the years of conspiracy before the Revolution and during the civil war; this means before 1921. By social origin the basic mass of delegates to the congress were workers (60% of the voting members). For this reason, it was inconceivable that a congress so composed would have elected a Central Committee a majority of whom would prove to be enemies of the Party. The only reason why 70% of the Central Committee members and candidates elected at the 17th. Congress were branded as enemies of the Party and the people was because honest Communists were slandered, accusations against them were fabricated, and revolutionary legality was gravely undermined. The same fate met not only the Central Committee members but also the majority of the delegates to the 17th. Congress. Of 1,966 delegates with either voting or advisory rights, 1,108 persons were arrested on charges of anti-revolutionary crimes …”
Nearly all these leaders were later accused of having been in league with imperialism since 1918 and shot. Before our eyes, before history, the Communist leaders of the Russian Revolution were massacred … by Stalin. Thus we are informed as to the social composition of the early Soviet leaders who attended the 17th. Congress and who, along with many of similar background but who were not delegates to the Congress, were murdered on Stalin’s orders. Clearly Stalin’s political power base was not the working class and the Revolution, so what was it? We shall have to seek the answer from a different source since Khrushchev did not provide it in his speech.
“It would be naïve to imagine that Stalin, previously unknown to the masses, suddenly issued from the wings full armed with a complete strategical plan. No indeed. Before he felt out his own course, the bureaucracy felt out Stalin himself. He brought it all the necessary guarantees: the prestige of an old Bolshevik, a strong character, narrow vision, and close bonds with the political machine as the sole source of his influence. The success which fell upon him was a surprise at first to Stalin himself. It was the friendly welcome of the new ruling group, trying to free itself from the old principles and from the control of the masses, and having need of a reliable arbiter in its inner affairs. A secondary figure before the masses and in the events of the revolution, Stalin revealed himself as the indubitable leader of the Thermidorian bureaucracy, as first in its midst.” (Revolution Betrayed, page 92-93, L. Trotsky).
What was the social composition of the bureaucratic clique who had appointed Stalin their leader? Trotsky goes on:-
“The new ruling caste soon revealed its own ideas, feeling and, more important, its interests. The overwhelming majority of the older generation of the present bureaucracy had stood on the other side of the barricades during the October Revolution. (Take, for example, Troyanovsky, Maisky, Potemkin, Suritz, Khinchuk, etc.) Or at best they had stood aside from the struggle. Those of the present bureaucrats who were in the Bolshevik camp in the October days played in the majority of cases no considerable role. As for the young bureaucrats, they have been chosen and educated by the elders, frequently from among their own offspring. These people could not have achieved the October Revolution, but they were perfectly suited to exploit it.” (Ibid.)
Clearly the massacre of the communist representatives of the revolutionary working class was carried out by bourgeois, non-communist social strata and was thoroughly counter-revolutionary, but Khrushchev could not possibly have gone so far as to explain all this in his speech. Indeed, it seems likely that his motivation was self-preservation as much as anything else. Another Soviet leader, Anastas Mikoyan, later claimed to have suggested the idea to Khrushchev, saying “There has to be a report on what had happened … if we don’t do that at the Congress, and someone else does it sometime before the next congress, then everyone would have a legal right to hold us fully responsible for the crimes that had occurred”. Whether Khrushchev had any intention of carrying reform further or not we shall never know, because at this point the masses took the initiative and there was a revolutionary upsurge in Hungary. It happened like this.
On October 23rd. 1956 a large group of students gathered outside the Budapest radio station and demanded that their 17 point programme of democratic demands be broadcast. Police appeared to disperse them and immediately opened fire, and the government, headed by Erno Gero, a notorious Kremlin hack, promptly called for Soviet troops who had remained in occupation of the country since the end of the war. The following day Russian tanks and artillery fired on demonstrators killing and wounding hundreds of men, women and children. The people had no choice but to defend themselves and on the 25th. full-scale armed revolution broke out. The demand heard everywhere was for the withdrawal of Soviet troops, and central to the whole struggle was a general strike which coalesced into a system of councils of workers, soldiers and students, that is soviets, and the trade unions put forward a series of demands:-
1. Workers councils in every factory to establish workers management
and radically transform the system of State planning and directing.
2. Wages to be raised immediately by 10 to 15 percent and a ceiling
(about £106 a month) fixed for highest salaries.
3. To abolish production norms except in factories where the workers or
workers council wish to keep them.
4. The 4% bachelor and childless family tax to be abolished; the lowest
retirement pension to be increased; child allowances to be raised with
special reference to to the needs of large families.
5. Speed up house-building with State, co-operatives and other
organisations launching a powerful social movement to mass-produce
6. Negotiate with the Government of the Soviet Union and other countries
in order to establish economic relations that will ensure mutual
advantages by adhering to the principle of equality.
It would not have been possible to formulate the demands of a communist revolution more clearly, based as they were on a system of soviets that had come into being spontaneously in all the major cities and towns exactly as they had in 1917 in Russia. Yet the Soviet Union crushed it with tanks! How then could the Soviet Union be described as a communist country? Surely this was an act of violent anti-communism. And why do western politicians, commentators and historians insist ad nauseam that the Soviet Union was a communist country?
The truth, as Lenin once remarked, is always simple. The capitalist ruling class thoroughly approved of the Stalinist dictatorship since it kept the working class in check in the Soviet Union and in the world in general. We have explained above how the Kremlin dictatorship prevented revolution in many countries in the 1930’s and after the Second World War. At the same time, by insisting that the Soviet Union was a communist country they succeeded in large measure in convincing workers that communism, as opposed to Stalinism, is necessarily a dictatorship over them. The capitalist ruling class condemned the dictatorship in words while at the same time taking full advantage of it in practice. This contradiction between the words and deeds of the ruling class, and its veiled symbiotic relationship with the Stalinist dictatorship, was brilliantly shown up by the Hungarian Revolution.
In the first place the ruling class had an obvious need to present the revolution as a fight to restore capitalism, that is, not as a revolution but a counter-revolution, in opposition to “communism”, which, they assured us, the Hungarian workers hated. Inevitably there were some elements in favour of a return to capitalism, some land owners for example, who had survived under the tutelage of the bureaucracy, but they had no mass support and were far too weak to throw up any kind of organised leadership. A Mr. Charlie Coutts, a member of the British Communist party who had lived in Hungary for three years, told the British Communist Party paper, the Daily Worker:-
“I don’t want to minimise the danger of a return of the émigrés”, [pro-capitalist exiles], “but if the revolutionary committees can hammer out some form of unity around basic demands for an independent, democratic and Socialist Hungary, then all attempts at counter-revolution will be defeated.”
Well, it is clear that the committees had already achieved unity on the right basis, and in any case the only person to speak out in support of pro-capitalist elements was the anti-communist Cardinal Mindzenty, and he made himself so unpopular by so doing that he had to take refuge in the American Embassy. In any case the capitalists understood quite well that if the revolution succeeded the soviets would become the new democratic form of government in Hungary and that the existing socialised property relations would be preserved and extended. The one thing they had in common with the Kremlin dictators was the need to prevent this at all costs, since if workers elsewhere followed the example then both their houses would come crashing down. On 11th. November the London Observer reported developments in America as follows:-
“High administration sources say that the United States had tried to let the Russians know, without being provocative, that Berlin and Austria will be defended by American forces. Hungary, meanwhile, has been officially and finally abandoned to its fate.”
In other words, get on and crush the revolution, use as many tanks as you think necessary and we will look the other way. And just to sort out their confusion, it was not “Hungary” that was to be left to its fate, but the workers fighting for soviet socialism. Hungary would have remained Hungary had they won or lost. The reference to the defence of Austria and Berlin was an obvious red herring since neither were threatened, it was just a crude attempt to come to the assistance of the Kremlin dictatorship by covering up the real class nature of the conflict. As for the attitude of the Hungarian workers to America, we are informed by a British journalist who witnessed these events, Basil Davidson, that one of the revolutionaries, commenting on the American propaganda radio station Free Europe Radio, said, “I wish I could shut its ugly mouth. It lied to us just as the Russians lied to us.”
With the aid of their tanks the Kremlin dictators put down the workers revolution in their usual bloody style, but they were seriously frightened by the Hungarian Revolution and all thought of further reforms went out of the window and the working class, bereft of revolutionary leadership, remained at the mercy of the bureaucracy.
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VII. The “Cold War” Years.
The end of the Second World War brought a change in the form of world history. In 1941 all the western military leaders had predicted a swift defeat for the Soviet Union, but now it had emerged as a world super-power so that the long awaited “peace” was at the same time the pre-condition for war on an even more gigantic scale. America had already used the nuclear bomb in Japan, and by 1949 the Soviet Union had conducted its first test. The “cold war” had begun, with each side accusing the other of aggressive intentions, and the question of which, if either side, had such intentions must surely be examined.
Let us remind ourselves at the outset that in modern history there are, substantially speaking, two kinds of war both of which have the same root cause, war between capitalist nation states, and war between the classes. The capitalist mode of production cannot proceed without all wealth produced is first transformed into capital, which means that it cannot survive unless it expands and acquires new markets, hence each capitalist nation state is inherently war-like and aggressive. By the beginning of the twentieth century wars of colonial conquest had resulted in the more or less complete division of the world among the main imperialist powers, hence they began to fight among themselves. The other kind of war, the war between the classes, is international in nature, transcending national boundaries since the two classes, capitalist and proletariat, are common to all advanced countries. The cause of this kind of war is again the necessity for all wealth to be first transformed into capital, because since this gives rise to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the capitalist class and the impoverishment of the proletariat, class war results. It is often argued that this last is refuted by the huge increase in the standard of living for workers in the advanced countries during the twentieth century, but this is a misunderstanding since the conditions of the working class in these countries are the exception, not the rule. Capitalism is a world system and its division into nation states is altogether a relative matter. It we average out the conditions on a world scale, taking into account countries where the standard of living for the working class is much lower, and in seriously poor countries where workers are actually starving to death in whole communities, the law holds good. There has always been a reciprocal cause/effect relation between capitalist national war and the international class war, but with the end of the Second World War the two reached what is often described as a moment of identity, that is to say, they coalesced into one. This was the new form for history referred to above, a somewhat complex situation which requires explanation.
It was, as mentioned above, vitally necessary to western imperialism to win back the territory of the Soviet Union for capitalist exploitation, and as a result of the Second World War the whole of Eastern Europe was now also denied to them, but a huge obstacle stood in their way. The Soviet block consisted of workers states, so that to attack them was at the same time to attack the working class, that is, it would be a class war as well as a territorial war; how would the working class at home react? The answer was already known – they would refuse to support such a war and do everything in their power to stop it, as had been clearly demonstrated by the European revolution which occurred in connection with the First World War, the high point of which had been the Russian Revolution. Stuck on the horns of this dilemma, the imperialists were frustrated in their intentions and the result was the stalemate we know as the “cold war”. To add to their problems, the Soviet Union had just demonstrated that it had vastly superior armed forces so far as conventional arms were concerned, and could easily out-produce the West. Since the imperialists had lost the arms race quantitatively, their only chance was to compete qualitatively, by developing superior technology in the form of nuclear weapons, and since the Soviets had no option but to respond the insane nuclear race began, with each side rapidly introducing more powerful weapons and better means of delivery. Nuclear weapons had another crucial advantage for the ruling class, it could deploy and use them with very few people, and in this way they hoped to avoid the problem of making the working class fight a war against the Soviet Union. Incidentally, the "honour" of building the most powerful ever hydrogen bomb goes to the Soviets, who detonated a 50 megaton monster! There is a point of view to the effect that war between the West and the Soviet Union was prevented by the fear of mutual destruction in a nuclear holocaust, but that is at most only relatively true. The final decision to go to war is always taken in moments of extreme crisis by those who are most nationalistic in outlook and best placed to survive safely, in this instance in secret specially built underground bunkers.
During the years of the cold war the violently aggressive nature of imperialism was demonstrated time and again, each new depravity hypocritically presented as “defence of freedom and democracy”. In 1947 President Truman made an announcement which became known as the “Truman Doctrine”.
“I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures”
Why? Those who believe that any country which intervenes in the affairs of another is acting altruistically and not in its own interests are naïve indeed. The only kind of “freedom” America would defend was the freedom of the ruling class of another country to exploit labour, and then only so that America could in turn exploit that country’s economy to its own advantage. Where armed struggle takes place those directly involved are always a minority – the point is whose interests do they represent? The oppressed and exploited masses, perhaps? The reference to “outside pressures” could only be a reference to the Soviet Union, there wasn’t anyone else, but while the US felt it fair and necessary to resist Soviet “pressure” on another country, she reserved the right not only to exert pressure but to actually invade and wage war with impunity. The record of America's military exploits is as follows:-
Mexico 1845, 1916/17 Angola 1970-1990
Dominican Republic 1916-24, 1965 Ethiopia 1974-1991
Haiti 1915-1935, 1994 Chile 1973
China 1945-6, 1950-1953 Lebanon 1958-1973, 1983-1985
Greece 1945-1947 Granada 1963
Korea 1950-1953 Libya 1966
Guatemala 1954, 1967-69 El Salvador 1978-1992
Indonesia 1959 Nicaragua 1980’s
Cuba 1885-1898, 1959-1961 Panama 1903,
Congo 1964 Iraq 1991-1999, 2003 …
Peru 1965 Afghanistan 2001...
How do things stand with respect to the Soviet Union? The most important and fundamental consideration is that workers states, based as they are on socialised property relations and planned economy, do not contain the same economic necessity for territorial expansion by military means as do imperialist states. It is true that extension of the social revolution to other countries was absolutely necessary to the survival of the Soviet Union, since for economic reasons it is not possible to build socialism in one country, but while it is possible to conquer territory by military means, it is not possible to export revolution. This was understood by the Bolsheviks from the earliest days, and was confirmed in practice when Poland invaded Soviet Russia in April 1920. The Red Army repulsed the attack and after a fierce debate as to whether the enemy should be pursued beyond the Russian border and Poland occupied, in the belief that the Polish workers would make their revolution as a result, the attempt was made. The result was a fiasco, there was no revolution and the Red Army was driven out of Poland. Trotsky, who had been opposed to the attempt from the start, draws the lesson:-
“The Polish war confirmed from the opposite side what was demonstrated by the Brest-Litovsk war: that the events of war and those of revolutionary mass movement are measured by different yardsticks. Where the action of armies is measured by days and weeks, the movement of the masses of people is usually reckoned in months and years. If this difference in tempo is not taken into account, the gears of the war will only break the teeth of the revolutionary gears, instead of setting them in motion”. (My Life, page 458, L. Trotsky)
We can therefore conclude that there never was any serious military danger from the Soviet Union as far as the west was concerned. It is true that the Soviet Union had occupied Eastern Europe, but it must be remembered that this had taken place in exceptional circumstances. The Soviet Union had been invaded and had over-run these countries during the course of defeating its enemy, and the regimes that came into being had no principled basis from the communist standpoint, they were purely the result of the tortured logic of the Stalinist bureaucracy whose only interest was “building socialism in one country”, that is, its own self interest as a privileged cast. As for the real business of furthering the world revolution, the western leaders knew very well that there was no danger of the Soviet dictators taking any interest in it at all. The organisation whose function it was to represent and unite the leaders of the revolutionary struggle in every country, and organise the struggle on a world scale, was the Comintern, and Stalin had dissolved that in 1943, explaining his reasons to a Reuter correspondent as follows:-
“The dissolution of the Communist International is both appropriate and timely, for it will ease the organisation of pressure by all peace-loving nations against the common foe, Hitlerism, and expose the lie of the Hitlerites that Moscow allegedly intends to interfere in the life of other states and to ‘bolshevize’ them”. (Stalin, page 486, Dmitri Volkogonov)
This counter-revolutionary role persisted all through the cold-war years, proving that western imperialism had nothing to fear from the Kremlin Stalinist dictatorship. As late as 1973, the role of the Communist Party in Chile at the time of the fascist coup in September of that year against the UP, (“Popular Unity”), government was exactly in line with the dictates of the Kremlin. The UP was a coalition of the Socialist Party led by Salvadore Allende and the Stalinist Communist Party. On paper the Socialist Party was committed to a Marxist revolutionary programme but in practice it followed a confused “centrist” position, vacillating between revolutionary initiative and a class collaborationist position. The Communist Party, on the other hand, was entirely class collaborationist with a classic Stalinist popular front practice.
The UP government was elected in 1970 and set out on a programme of nationalisation of industry, (much of which was US owned), and very limited land reform, but while the mass of the workers were organising spontaneously, taking over factories and directing distribution, the UP government failed to arm the workers and left the armed forces of the capitalist state intact, thus avoiding the question of state power. While the Socialist Party hesitated the Communist Party followed a definite path of betrayal. Its leader, Luis Corvalan, defending his party’s position against accusations from right wing reactionaries, publicly stated its position in July 1973 as follows:-
“They are claiming that we have an orientation of replacing the professional army. No sir, we will continue to support keeping our armed institutions strictly professional.”
Professionalism, of course, had nothing to do with it - it was all about the class nature of the armed forces of the state, and the Communist Party, faithful to its Kremlin mentors, was determined to make sure that the existing army of the capitalist state, (which they treacherously referred to as “the people in uniform”), remained intact. It did, and two months later it led the coup under command of the fascist General Pinochet, crushed the revolution and massacred thousands of workers and communists. The Presidential Palace was assaulted and Allende was shot.
There can be no doubt that the imperialist leaders knew perfectly well that the Kremlin bureaucracy was no threat, and further, that it could be relied upon the contain any revolutionary struggles that might occur. But still it was necessary for the west to win back the territory of the workers states for capitalist exploitation, while the Stalinist bureaucracy had the single aim of maintaining the integrity of this system of states, often referred to as the “Soviet Block”, as the basis of its own privileged existence. Stalin, whose personal stature as an unopposed dictator had been enhanced by the spectacular Soviet victory in the Second world War, was well aware of the danger. Indeed, Trotsky’s characterisation of Hitler as a “Super-Wrangel” was vindicated when counter-revolutionary insurgency began in the Ukraine as the Nazis retreated, no doubt nurtured by the Nazi occupation just as the White armies in the Civil War had been supported by Britain, Germany, France and America. This insurgency was put down by 1950 but there could be no doubt of the aggressive intentions of the west. Khrushchev is quoted as saying:-
“We were surrounded by American air bases, our country was literally a great big target range for American bombers operating from airfields in Norway, Germany, Italy, South Korea and Japan.”
During the early post war years American planes continually overflew Soviet territory. Some of them were high level reconnaissance flights; some probed Soviet radar and air defences, still others delivered agents and supplies to agents. Although a substantial number of low flying planes were shot down, with pilots killed or perhaps captured, the psychological impact on Stalin’s associates was devastating. “The United States was conducting an arrogant and aggressive policy towards us,” said Khrushchev, “never missing a chance to demonstrate its superiority. The Americans … kept sending planes deep into our territory, sometimes as far as Kiev.” (Khrushchev, The Man and His Era, page 243, William Taubman). From Britain, Vulcan bombers armed with thermo-nuclear weapons took off from bases in East Anglia in relays round the clock, turning back only after failing to receive a pre-arranged signal telling them to go ahead.
At the same time there was a more subtle threat. The scale of the devastation of the Soviet Union during the war beggars belief. Seventeen towns and thousands of villages had been destroyed, thirty-two thousand factories had been destroyed, over fifty thousand miles of railway demolished, thousands of farms laid waste, there was famine to the point of cannibalism, and over twenty million had died. In January 1946 Stalin’s economic administrator Nikolai Voznesensky reported that the Soviet Union had lost 30% on its national wealth. Devastated by the war, the Soviet Union was in desperate need of financial aid – and America offered to provide it under the Marshall Plan. Stalin realised the danger – if it was accepted America would quickly have virtual control of the Soviet economy, and in 1947 he wisely refused. The American position after the war was of course quite the opposite; vast profits had been made supplying food and war material to other countries and America was now the richest country in the world. No wonder the socialist system appeared in a bad light when compared with the capitalist west, and it was, after all, capitalism that had done the damage to the Soviet economy.
The Western imperialists were not wrong in perceiving the Soviet Union as a threat, and as they well understood it was not a threat of military expansionism, but, in spite of the bureaucracy, the threat of world revolution. They could rely on the bureaucracy to do its utmost to hold the working class in check at the political level, but the Soviet victory in the Second World War and the economic and technological progress the Soviet Union made in the immediately post war years were proof of the superiority of socialised planned economy and this was bound to inspire the conscious layers of the working class in the west. In spite of the devastation of the war and the heavy hand of the dictatorship very significant development was made in the Soviet Union during the years of the cold war. In many ways the Soviet Union lagged behind the West, but at the same time a brilliance peculiar to the system of socialised property relations and planned economy shone through the drab appearance. Many talented scientists and engineers were trained to a high standard, and it is no surprise that, under constant threat from the West, the earliest post-war achievements in the Soviet Union were in the field of defence, particularly rockets to deliver nuclear warheads, which in turn became the basis of the space programme and the launch of the first Earth satellite on 4th. October 1957. But there was much more than that. On 19th. November the Guardian reported:-
“The Soviet Union and the US are neck and neck in the patenting of inventions, each registering about 80,000 a year, a long way ahead of Japan’s 50,000 registrations, and far ahead of the 10,000 of Britain and France. There are currently over 20,000 Soviet patents registered abroad, and the country earns about $100 million a year from foreign license fees. The figure is going to rise sharply as the new generation of Soviet inventions becomes available. This month, they seem to have perfected their 1,500 kilowatt electricity transmission line, the worlds most powerful.”
In October 1966 the Soviet economist, V. Kudrov, wrote in World Marxist Review,
“As regards overall investment, the USSR is close to the US level, (about 90%), and for the production investments and overall accumulation it has already achieved noticeable superiority ... During the seven year plan over one million metal cutting tools, over 200 million forge and die presses, and many automatic and continuous-flow lines were put into operation”
In the 1950’s and 60’s the Soviet economy achieved an average growth rate of 10.5%, miles ahead of any Western country, and under planned economy inflation, not a necessary evil as it is in the free market capitalist economy, was negligible. By mid 1980’s the standard of living was double what it had been at the end of the war, a great achievement for the planned system, and much more could have been achieved had it not been for the undemocratic self-serving nature of the bureaucracy and the system of setting production norms from above. In an article which appeared in Literaturnaya Gazeta in November 1976, which explains how arbitrary and ill informed planning decisions were causing chaos, managers who were a little more honest than most were quoted as saying:-
“The more expensive the material is, [that is the higher the price regardless of quality], the fewer clothes required to fulfil the plan! The cheaper the model, the more cars needed to be manufactured in order to fulfil the plan, and that would require additional capacity and manpower. A power engineer once praised me for leaving the electric light on: ‘Good for you! The more energy you consume the bigger our bonus!’ The director of the Riga Electro-Mechanical Plant commented: ‘Any quantitative index used as a basis for planning and evaluation will inevitably be one-sided and ultimately damaging. If a ton is the measure, output will get heavier. If the rouble is the measure, it will get costlier. If consumer satisfaction were used as the base, then production volume would certainly never be the measure’”
But the consumer could not express his dissatisfaction without risking censure or even punishment, and even if he did no-one would take any notice. In any case there was no kind of mechanism for consumer feed-back. Under capitalism the free market provides a check on productive enterprise to ensure correct quantity and quality of supply, but a planned economy can only work on the basis of free trade unions, workers control and the freest democracy. In the absence of such social control production managers paid little or no attention to quality control over their products as long as the quota was met, and it was left to the retail system to exercise what control it could. Thus, in just one year, 1971, 600 million roubles worth of manufactured goods were rejected as faulty by the retail network.
In agriculture the situation was if anything worse than that in industry. The war had done terrible damage with farms and crops being destroyed in the wake of the retreating Red Army and further damage by the Nazis. As a result of measures introduced by Khrushchev in the 1950’s annual output rose by close to 5%, but it was a short lived improvement. By the 1960’s this was down to 3% and by the 1970’s there was actual reduction and it became necessary to import food. In one year, 1984, grain imports cost $6.5 billion, and one agricultural worker was feeding six people as compared to 40 in the USA. The state farm system was run on the same “gross output” measure as was industry. Since a tractor driver was paid by the area ploughed he set his plough shallow so as to cover area more quickly and as a result crop yield suffered, and the utilisation and maintenance of farm machinery was poor since no one owned them.
To all this waste and inefficiency must be added outright theft and corruption. In agriculture it was easy for managers to falsify output figures due to natural seasonal variation, and then sell produce for private gain on the black market. In 1976 investigations revealed that a group of thieves operating through a department store embezzled over 116,000 roubles and in the city of Tomsk nearly half a million roubles had gone missing. Scams of all kinds were common, such as the case of a government official who made a fortune out of exporting caviar disguised as tins of herring. State officials and senior Party members had special privilege shops in which they could buy superior goods at subsidised prices and they paid themselves inflated salaries. The higher one went in the system the worse it got. It is known that President Brezhnev had an extensive wardrobe of expensive western clothes, copious supplies of vodka and imported beer, and a fleet of cars including a Rolls Royce, a Cadillac, a Maserati and a Mercedes Benz. Doubtless he was not the only one, and when we add up all this waste, incompetence, corruption and theft, not to mention an average spend of 12% of gross domestic product on defence, it is no wonder that the Soviet economy was by now under serious strain.
Developing complexity strains planning. By 1979 the economic growth rate had slumped to 3.6%, and this steady economic decline took place in a changing situation. Prior to the war there had been very little by way of a consumer market, and economic planners had little else to deal with than infrastructure such a electrification, roads, railways etc., but after the war the supply of consumer products steadily increased, so that by the 1980’s there were over 50,000 factories and 20 million different commodities being supplied. The ability of the bureaucratic system to cope effectively with this increasing complexity under conditions of horrendous waste and corruption had reached an absolute limit and by 1986 the whole system was threatened with collapse. Further reform of the system was impossible, only revolutionary measures could save the situation, and under the lash of necessity such measures were attempted. They were to become known as perestroika or “restructuring”, and glasnost, “openness”, and we associate them mainly with Mikhail Gorbachev.
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VIII. Revolution and Counter-Revolution
“Behind the question of quality stands a more complicated and grandiose problem which may be comprised in the concept of independent, technical and cultural creation. The ancient philosopher said that strife is the father of all things. No new values can be created where a free conflict of ideas is impossible. To be sure, a revolutionary dictatorship means by its very essence strict limitations of freedom. But for that very reason epochs of revolution have never been directly favourable to cultural creation: they have only cleared the arena for it. The dictatorship of the proletariat opens a wider scope to human genius the more it ceases to be a dictatorship. The socialist culture will flourish only in proportion to the dying away of the state. In that simple and unshakable historic law is contained the death sentence of the present political regime in the Soviet Union. Soviet democracy is not a demand of an abstract policy, still less an abstract moral. It has become a life-and-death need of the country.”
So wrote Leon Trotsky in his seminal work, Revolution Betrayed, in the year 1936! Tragically, it took a further five decades before leaders appeared in the Soviet Union who understood this, and still more tragically, they failed in their attempt to put this epoch making idea into practice. The content of this highly contradictory period of intense political ferment, which began in 1985 and ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991-3 and the restoration of capitalism in its territories, can be reduced to the fight between three political tendencies. (1) The revolutionary struggle to negate the Stalinist past and return to the Soviet democracy that resulted from the Revolution of October 1917, that is, the political revolution as envisaged by Trotsky although manifested in an unpredicted way. (2) Its dialectical opposite, the counter-revolutionary tendency to the restoration of capitalism. (3). The struggle of the incumbent Stalinist bureaucracy to stave off the revolution and the restoration of capitalism, and cling on to its entrenched privileged existence through continued dictatorship, the struggle for the preservation of the status quo.
The process of political revolution which now unfolded in the Soviet Union is much misunderstood, and it must be said that the avalanche of books and reports on the subject which have appeared in the west presents a pathetic and appalling muddle. The source of this dreadful confusion has been explained above, it flows from the formal and mechanical equating of democracy with capitalism and of dictatorship with communism, or more generally, confounding politics with economics, since the only kind of democracy these people really understand is based on the bourgeois democratic right to exploit the working class which in turn is based on the right of private property in the means of production in class divided society. The idea that true democracy in the Soviet Union meant a return to the freedom and legality of the Soviet system that resulted from the Revolution of October 1917, and the preservation of the socialised property relations already existing, was and is beyond their comprehension.
Further, many of those who based their perspective on Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet Union as a deformed workers state, and the consequent necessity for the political revolution to overthrow the bureaucracy while maintaining the socialised property relations, failed to grasp the essence of the matter. Basing themselves dogmatically on Trotsky’s characterisation of the Stalinist bureaucracy as being wholly reactionary and un-reformable, which he had reached as long ago as 1938, they were blind to the possibility that, in such a crisis situation as had now come into being, it might be possible for the revolutionary aspirations of the working class to be reflected in its ranks. This mistake flowed from their formal, metaphysical, that is anti-dialectical philosophical outlook which makes identity its law; a thing can only equal itself, it cannot be itself and the other of itself in one moment, cannot contain its own opposite within itself, the contradictory difference within its identity. When Trotsky explained that the bureaucracy was un-reformable, he was speaking of the bureaucracy as a whole, a political phenomenon thrown up by the class struggle under specific historical conditions, but nowhere did he ever say that it was impossible for members of the bureaucracy to reach revolutionary conclusions as individuals, as parts with the whole, as difference within the identity.
Those who maintain that the tendency to political revolution was not present in this moment of Soviet history write off the working class altogether as a revolutionary force in society. We can be absolutely certain that the political revolution was present as a force for social change, because the working class is the only revolutionary class, it quantitatively outweighs all other classes, and its presence as a force must be reflected in each and every side and aspect of the class struggle in every moment. Such people invariably compounded their mistake by failing to clearly see the Soviet Union in its international context, and to see the struggles that unfolded there as a part within the whole of the world class struggle itself. When we speak of the political revolution in the Soviet Union, we speak of the world revolution as a whole as an infinite process, as that whole manifested itself as the finite “in the Soviet Union”. In the same way, the undoubted tendency to the restoration of capitalism was seen by many as having its origin within the Soviet Union instead of being the result of the world crisis of capitalism as its external cause. Hence such people, struggling to gasp the nature of the revolutionary process which took the form of perestroika and glasnost, pasted onto it the only label they could find in their dusty old store-room of ready made fixed concepts, and called it the restoration of capitalism. Finally, many take an ultra-left position, regarding the strikes and struggles of the Soviet working class as the living revolution itself, but this again is a mistake. There were indeed such struggles, but they must be seen as potentially revolutionary rather than actually revolutionary, the stuff of which revolution is made rather than revolution itself. Such spontaneous struggles are no more a revolution than a pile of bricks is a house, though there be sufficient to build a mansion. It takes an architect to synthesise the bricks and materials into a house, which is a whole greater than the sum of its parts, and it takes a political party armed with the correct revolutionary theory to unite the spontaneous struggles of the working class into a revolution. In 1917 there was such a party, but not now, Stalin had wiped it out in the 1930’s.
Over the years the restructuring of the capitalist world which resulted from the Second World War had begun to come unstitched. The financial basis of the economic recovery which had been engineered at Bretton Woods in 1944, which made the US dollar the main world currency valued at $35 to the ounce of gold, collapsed in 1971 when the dollar came under pressure and had to be taken off the gold standard. The edifice of world imperialism was now decidedly shaky and to make matters worse huge increases in the price of oil followed one upon the other causing further destabilisation. Then, in October 1987, just as the political revolution in the Soviet Union was under way, there was a massive world wide stock market crash of truly historic proportions. Billions were wiped of stocks and shares in every major country, and this at a time when the US was running a trade deficit of 146 billion dollars and rising. Capitalism had its back to the wall and in order to survive it had to do two things – increase the rate of exploitation of wage labour in the west and win back the territory of the Soviet Union by restoring capitalist property relations there, and when the chance came they leapt at the opportunity to influence events. The real cause of the counter-revolutionary tendency to the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union came from outside.
We noted above how the defeats of the revolutionary struggles in the west had destroyed the faith of the Soviet working class in world revolution and strengthened the bureaucracy, but now history was moving in the opposite direction; the working class was undefeated. The crushing military victory of the Soviet Union over capitalism in its fascist form in 1945 was followed by the Chinese revolution in 1948 and the break-up of the British Empire. Then came the Cuban revolution in 1959 and in the 1970’s came the defeat of fascism in Spain and Portugal and national revolutions in the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, the historic victory over US imperialism in Viet Nam, and the revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua. The heroic decades long defence by the Palestinian people of their rights and homeland territory against genocidal war perpetrated by the Zionist entity on behalf of American and British imperialism, the purpose of which was and is to maintain a fortress in the midst of the most important oil reserves, was a backdrop to all these struggles. The Soviet bureaucracy could no longer feed off the defeats of the working class, and those who saw the need to renew the revolutionary struggle which had begun in 1917 could take every encouragement from the international situation. The tendency to political revolution in the Soviet Union was the internal reflection of the external world revolution.
Signs of revolutionary change in the Soviet Union began to manifest themselves at about the same time as Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, (CPSU), in March 1985. The famous poet, Yevgeny Yevtuchenko, began to attack the Stalinist dictatorship, and calls for an end to censorship and for truthful reporting of Soviet history were being made in important publications. One month later Gorbachev introduced the strategy of perestroika and glasnost, restructuring and openness, to the plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the CPSU in April 1985. Dozens of ministries which had come into being in previous years on a “jobs for the boys” basis were to be scrapped. The system of “cost accounting” was to be introduced, which made individual enterprises responsible for their own viability while remaining within the state plan. A state quality inspection was to be introduced to negate the effect of the gross output drive. Personnel changes began to take place at all levels of industry and commerce.
In March 1986 Gorbachev denounced the Brezhnev era as “the epoch of stagnation” at the 27th. Congress of the CPSU and in May the promised State Inspection of Production, Gospyomka, began its work. Speaking at Khabarovsk the following July Gorbachev said that the process of restructuring, (perestroika), “must take place simultaneously from above and below”, and went on to say “I equate the word ‘restructuring’ with ‘revolution’. Our transformations … are a real revolution in the entire system of social relations, in the hearts and minds of people and in the psychological understanding of the modern period and above all, of the tasks engendered by rapid scientific and technical progress”.
On 2nd. November 1987, in a speech commemorating the 70th. anniversary of the October 1917 socialist revolution, Gorbachev announced that the Politburo of the CPSU had established a commission to investigate the crimes of Stalin, and the work of this commission proved to be of the greatest historical importance and the essence of the political revolution in the USSR and internationally, because it established that the political revolution was historically connected with, and the continuation of, the Revolution of 1917. This commission reported to the Politburo of the CPSU on 5th. Feb 1988, saying that the verdicts passed down against many Bolshevik leaders of the 1917 Revolution in the infamous frame-up “Moscow trial” in March 1938 had been repealed by the Supreme Court. Among them were famous Bolshevik leaders and close associates of Lenin such as Bukharin, Rykov and Rakovsky. The commission stated that “these persons were convicted by the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court in March 1938 on charges that on assignment from the intelligence services of foreign states hostile to the USSR, they organised a conspiratorial group with the aim of overthrowing the socialist social and state system existing in the USSR, and that they engaged in acts of sabotage and wrecking, terrorist and other hostile activities.” The Commission’s statement went on: “It has been established that the preliminary investigations in this case were conducted with crude violations of socialist legality and with falsified facts, and admissions of guilt were obtained from the accused through unlawful methods.” The methods were, of course, prolonged imprisonment in inhumane conditions and horrific torture, mental and physical, to extract false confessions. By April 1988 the written works of those old leaders of the Revolution who had by now been rehabilitated, including those of Trotsky, were available in public libraries. In the following year, January 1989, the vital work of establishing the truth of Soviet and Bolshevik history which had been initiated from “above” was answered by a movement from “below” and the whole process took on the character of a social force. Leading academics, notably Professor Yuri Afanasiev, rector of the Institute of Historical Archives, founded an organisation called the All-Union Voluntary Historical Enlightenment Memorial Society, or Memorial for short. Its purpose was to establish the truth of Soviet history and the members of its leading council were elected in true revolutionary style by a public poll carried out on the streets of Moscow, and among those elected were Andrei Sakharov, the poet Yevtushenko and Boris Yeltsin.
It may seem that the question of the truth of the history of the Soviet Union since the Revolution is of merely academic interest, but in fact Memorial and its work was the motor force and essence of the political revolution, the struggle to overthrow the old Stalinist dictatorship and to restore Soviet democracy and legality. Memorial was not just a historical society, it was a political movement, the living link with the Left Opposition led by Trotsky himself, and through it to the October Revolution. Members of Memorial included some who were personally connected with the Left Opposition, such as Rakovsky’s grandson, Adolf Joffe’s daughter Nadezhda who had spent thirty years in Stalin’s prison camps, and the grand-daughter of another founder of the Left Opposition, Smilga. Rakovsky was a co-founder of the Left Opposition with Trotsky when it was set up in 1923. Now consider Mikoyan’s fearful prediction after Stalin’s death which we have recounted above, “if we do not report on these crimes we shall be held responsible”. The truth of the crimes was now coming out. To give one instance, one of the worst of Stalin’s crimes was brought to light by members of the Memorial Society about this time when they established that the bodies of thousands of people buried in mass graves in Alma Ata were victims of Stalin’s mass purges and not, as the Stalinists had claimed, victims of the Nazis. If these revelations continued the bureaucrats stood to lose everything, their power, their privileges, their dachas and cars, their whole social status, possibly their freedom or even their lives.
It is no surprise, then, that Memorial in particular and the political revolution in general encountered fierce opposition from the start, in the first place from the old guard Stalinist bureaucrats struggling to maintain the status quo. On 13th March 1988, while preparations for the 19th. Conference of the All Union CPSU were under way, a letter appeared in the newspaper Sovetskaya Rossiya from Nina Andreyeva, a chemistry teacher at the Leningrad Soviet Technological Institute. It amounted to a rallying call to all those opposed to restructuring and to a re-examination of Soviet history. Defending Stalin, and therefore implicitly all that had been said and done in his name, she wrote:-
“For instance, take Churchill who, back in 1919, boasted of his personal contribution to organising the military intervention by 14 foreign states against the young Soviet republic and, exactly 40 years later, was forced to use the following words to describe Stalin, one of his formidable political opponents:
‘He was an outstanding personality who left his mark on our cruel time during his lifetime. Stalin was a man of exceptional energy, erudition and unbending willpower; harsh, tough and ruthless in both action and conversation and even I, brought up in the English Parliament, could not oppose him in any way. A gigantic force resounded in his works. This force is so great in Stalin that he seemed unique among the leaders of all times and all peoples …’”
Andreyeva’s letter went on to invoke De Gaulle and other imperialist leaders as character references for Stalin, and if she had deliberately set out to condemn Stalin in the eyes of the working class and in the cause of the revolution she could not have done a better job. Churchill was a life long vitriolic enemy of communism in theory and practice; what are we to think of Stalin if he receives the approbation of such people? Secondly, Churchill’s eulogy of Stalin came as a result of the only relations he ever had with him, that is, during and after the second world war the essence of which relations were, as we have related above, complete unity between Stalin and Churchill in their opposition to world revolution. No wonder Churchill thought he was a good guy.
The struggle between these opposing tendencies, the political revolution and the Stalinist reaction, manifested itself at the 19th. All Union Conference of the CPSU in June 1988, while the other tendency, the tendency to the restoration of capitalism, remained for the moment below the surface. Discussion at the Congress was a complete departure from the miserable orchestrated and sycophantic Stalinist affairs of the past, it was free and open and far reaching decisions were taken on vital questions concerning Party democracy and political, economic and social matters. Most significant of all was the adoption of the theses on the Soviets presented by the Central Committee which called for the restoration of their powers and re-elections and restructuring. Central to the theses was the demand “all power to the soviets”, the demand upon which the Revolution of 1917 had itself been based, and there can be no confusion on this question; the demand for the restoration of soviet democracy was a renewal of the struggle for state power for the working class and could be nothing but the political revolution alive and kicking, the re-birth of October 1917 and the free play of conflicting ideas to which Trotsky referred above. In his summing up speech at the end of the Conference Gorbachev had this to say concerning the discussion which had taken place concerning the Communist Party:-
“The wish to see the Party still stronger has resounded here most passionately and resolutely. This can only be welcomed, and I think all of us are pleased. As put down in its resolution, the Conference demanded that our Party should in every respect be a Leninist party not only in content but also in its methods. In other words, it must renounce command style methods once and for all, and conduct its policy by means of organisational, personnel and ideological work in strict conformity with Soviet laws and the democratic principles of society.” (Page 108, 19th All Union Conference of the CPSU, Documents and Materials, Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, 1988)
Concerning broader, economic issues, Gorbachev went on:-
“Equally important is the resolve – which was forcefully expressed at the Conference - to continue and enhance our radical economic reform. Essential conditions for this were created by the decisions of the June 1987 Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee and by the adoption of legislative acts, particularly the laws on the State Enterprise (Association) and on Co-operatives. We focused our attention on the experience acquired by countless enterprises during the first months of operating according to the new principles and on the progress of the reform. And that is as it should be: everything occurring within the underlying infrastructure is of immense importance to society; we are dealing with the very foundations of perestroika.” (Op. Cit. p.109)
The laws on State Enterprise touched immediately on the interests of the bureaucrats with their safe jobs and privileges and their corrupt practices; “enhancing our radical economic reform” meant, of course, an end to the nepotism, jobs for the boys and the corrupt practices of the legions of bureaucrats which infested the State Enterprise system. Hence Gorbachev’s next remarks:-
“As concerns the key landmarks of the discussion on these issues, the point is above all that after the Conference we must get down in earnest to the job of dismantling the mechanism which is holding us back. Representatives of virtually all delegations said that the bureaucracy was still showing its teeth, resisting and trying to sabotage things. As a result, the reform is hitting snags in many areas. That is perhaps one of the more important observations the delegates have made here, and it means the phenomenon is widespread. Therefore, we in the Central Committee, in the Government and its central and local organisations must do everything we can to advance the radical economic reform more vigorously.” (Ibid.)
There can be absolutely no doubt that anyone who wanted to escape from the Stalinist hell of the past and make life worthwhile in the Soviet Union had to renounce the “command style methods”, (i.e. dictatorship), to which Gorbachev refers, but at this point there came forward a champion for those who wished to cling on to them - Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin had already been forced to resign from his position as First Secretary of the Moscow City Committee of the Party at the insistence of its members who had accused him of sabotaging the reforms and adopting precisely the command style methods of the Stalinist past. It seems clear that Gorbachev considered him a sufficiently serious threat that it was necessary to speak at length in reply to the negative and destructive comments Yeltsin had made at the Conference:-
“What I cannot accept, however, is Boris Yeltsin’s contention that we have launched perestroika without a sufficiently thorough analysis of the causes behind the phenomenon of stagnation or of the present state of our society, without an in-depth analysis of our history or of the Party’s failings, that our perestroika is nothing but words.” (Ibid.)
Clearly Yeltsin had made a very serious attack on the whole process of the political revolution, but was it justified? In view of Gorbachev’s further remarks it would seem not:-
“Nor do I regard as justified Comrade Yeltsin’s critical remarks about our failure to effect revolutionary transformations over the past three years…” (Ibid)
There was clearly no pleasing Yeltsin; first the revolution was proceeding too fast without adequate preparation, then it was not achieving revolutionary transformations fast enough. Whatever was the cause of his dissatisfaction he had not made it clear, and this conflict between Gorbachev and Yeltsin was a sign of things to come. As we shall see, at some point Yeltsin decided that the attempt to maintain the status quo, the Stalinist dictatorship of which he was a part, was a lost cause, and he became the main protagonist of the other political force at work but which for the moment was still below the surface, the counter-revolutionary tendency to the restoration of capitalism.
Under Gorbachev’s leadership various steps were taken to break the grip of the bureaucracy. In February 1989 the CC of the CPSU resolved to create a presidential system in the Soviet Union, and in the same month Article Six of the constitution, which guaranteed a monopoly of power to the CPSU, was abolished. In April seventy-four “old guard” members of the Central Committee of the CPSU were “retired”. In the following month a new representative body, the Congress of Peoples Deputies, was elected, two-thirds of which was by direct popular election, its functions overlapping those of the Supreme Soviet. All this took place during a period in which the Soviet Union was breaking up. The economy was in dire trouble with a budget deficit of Rbs. 62,000 million reported for the year 1988-89 and there were serious strikes in the mining industry. State after state declared independence and the Berlin wall came crashing down. The grip of the bureaucracy was indeed being broken and while this in itself was a great step forward for the political revolution not just for the USSR but also for the whole world, it brought with it the greatest possible danger. We explained above that it was in the very nature of the bureaucracy, since its inception, to defend the socialised property relations in the USSR because it was upon this basis that its privileged existence rested. Once effectively stripped of its power the bureaucracy could no longer carry out this function, and now that the defences of the Soviet Union were wide open the capitalist west lost not one second in intervening in its affairs and conniving for the restoration of capitalism, and above all sabotaging the political revolution which was a mortal threat to world capitalism as a whole. Many of the corrupt bureaucrats, in mortal fear of losing their privileged existence, were delighted to get the chance to become capitalists instead, hence the counter-revolutionary tendency to the restoration of capitalism began to gain ground and its main protagonist was Boris Yeltsin.
The Conflict between revolution and counter-revolution in the Soviet Union now found political expression in the power struggle between Gorbachev and Yeltsin respectively. The former had been elected to the most powerful post of all, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Union, in September 1988, while Yeltsin was later elected Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, (RSFSR), in May 1990. The RSFSR was Russia constituted as a separate state in its own right within the Union, and Yeltsin began to use it as a power base from which to pursue his own agenda. The RSFSR government under his leadership comprised the extreme right wing of the bureaucracy, and two of its leaders, Stanislav Shatalin and Grigory Yavlinsky, put forward what became known as the “500 day programme” for the complete restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union as a whole, which provided for large-scale privatisation, price liberalisation and ending state subsidies.
So much was uncertain as to the desperate economic situation that the desirability or otherwise of such measures, or the extent to which they should go, was and is open to debate, but one crucial thing is clear. If we compare this period, as many do, to that of the New Economic Policy of 1921, we see a fundamental difference between the position taken by the Bolshevik leadership of the time and that taken now. Both measures were steps in the direction of capitalist market economy but whereas in 1921 the reforms were very limited and the Bolsheviks were clear that it was an unavoidable retreat in order to lay a sound basis for a fresh advance along the socialist road, no-one, and especially not Yeltsin, based themselves on this perspective now. In any case the implementation of the programme met with resistance at the top political level and among the working class, proving that the opposing tendency to the political revolution was not yet quite defeated; a recent poll had shown a big majority in favour of retaining centralised planned economy and there had been big demonstrations. TASS, the official news agency, reported that the term “private property” had been avoided by political spokesmen because it was “an emotive phrase that people equate with injustice and exploitation”. There was heated debate in the Supreme Soviet on the measure, but on 1st. July 1990 the 500 day programme was passed into law by 350 votes against 3 with 11 abstentions and the fate of the Soviet Union was sealed.
This was a decisive victory for the counter-revolution over its dialectical opposite, the political revolution, and it now had to find determinate form through the political struggle, the most striking external feature of which was the conflict between Gorbachev and Yeltsin, the latter being now in the ascendancy and the chief protagonist of capitalist restoration. The right and proper vehicle for all political struggle in the Soviet Union was of course the CPSU, but under the Stalinist reaction all free speech had been stifled and membership had become nothing but a necessary career move for the ambitious bureaucrat. At the 19th. All Union Conference Gorbachev had pointed the way to its re-generation, (see quote above). Gorbachev said that it must be a “Leninst party”, that is, the class party of the proletariat, the main instrument of the dictatorship of the proletariat for the transformation from capitalism to socialism. Now that the Supreme Soviet had taken the road to counter-revolution, the restoration of capitalism, membership of the Party had no meaning so far as the bureaucracy was concerned and thousands began to resign, Yeltsin among them. The Party was side-lined, Gorbachev was side-lined along with it and from this moment on he seemed to become increasingly disorientated.
Up to this point Gorbachev had been the main spokesman for the political revolution at the summit of political power, but now he began to retreat. At the 28th. Congress of the CPSU in July 1990 Gorbachev, now left with nothing but words to cover his retreat, tried his best to pull the wool over the eyes of the Soviet working class. Denying the now obvious restoration of capitalism he said “By moving towards a market economy we are not swerving from the road to socialism, but are advancing toward a fuller realisation of society’s potential.” Meaningless euphemistic abstractions like “market Economy” and “society’s potential” had by now become Gorbachev’s stock in trade. How is it possible to advance unswervingly along the road to socialism by way of an outright restoration of capitalism? As for the realisation society’s full potential, we shall never know whether the return to capitalism was unavoidable because the struggle to renew the socialist system was never carried through to the end, and in any case the restoration of capitalism could only have been a temporary phase; sooner or later the necessity for social revolution would have asserted itself once again. The working class itself, bereft of a revolutionary party to lead it, could not unite the myriad threads of its spontaneous struggle into one revolutionary stream, and as the force of the political revolution began to recede the struggle between the old guard Stalinist bureaucracy defending the status quo and the counter-revolutionary elements united round Yeltsin bent on restoring capitalism grew in intensity and scope.
In September 1990 the Yeltsin clique went onto the attack by announcing that it would unilaterally implement a version of the 500 Day Plan in the RSFSR, thus opening an enormous rift between the RSFSR and the Soviet Union as a whole of which it was a part under the constitution. The deadline for implementation of 1st. October came and went but the threat had the desired effect of forcing the Soviet Government to take action on the 500 Day Plan. On 19th. October the USSR Supreme Soviet approved a plan for market economy which liberalised prices and opened the Soviet economy to foreign investment, and at this point just a glimpse of the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing between the Yeltsin clique and the capitalist world showed itself. After a summit meeting between Gorbachev, (now president of the Soviet Union), and President Bush of the US, the latter said that he was “prepared to encourage the Soviet Union in every way in its search for greater engagement with the international market economy”. In other words, he would back the capitalist roaders to the hilt.
It is no surprise that the Stalinist bureaucracy, consisting of CPSU hardliners and with its narrow formal outlook, focused its attention on organisational matters. With country after country declaring independence the Soviet Union was breaking up, and Gorbachev, making a virtue out of necessity each time he was forced to retreat, had begun negotiations on what became known as the New Union Treaty. This treaty provided for the independence of all the republics comprising the Soviet Union while retaining a few powers for the central Soviet Government by way of a fig-leaf. Thousands of bureaucrats and military leaders would be disempowered or jobless, and consequently they were inclined to desperate measures, some even favouring a return to the outright repressions of the Stalin era. They had their political representation, the Soyuz group of deputies in the Congress, and in December 1990 this group noisily called for a state of emergency and military action against the republics breaking away from the Soviet Union. Their demand fell on deaf ears and the negotiations for the New Union Treaty, which was to be ratified on 20th. August 1991, ground on. Then, amid rising tension and rumours of a coup, the day before the treaty was due to be ratified, the 19th, tanks appeared in the streets of Moscow and some provincial cities – the coup had begun, and its obvious aim was to scupper the treaty and empower the military leadership to take control of the whole situation. The coup leaders styled themselves The State Committee for the State of Emergency, and one of them, minister of defence Yazov, announced in a radio broadcast that a state of emergency had been introduced due to the “profound crisis and political, ethnic and civil strife, chaos and anarchy that threatens the lives and security of the Soviet Unions citizens.” At the same time Gorbachev, who was on holiday in the Crimea, had been visited by a group of military leaders who had demanded that he sign a declaration of a state of emergency, and had placed him under house arrest when he refused.
At this time Yeltsin was in the presidential building of the RSFSR, known as the “White House”. Having established his credentials as a capitalist roader he no doubt felt safe in the knowledge that he had the support of the occupant of the other White House, the one in Washington D.C. USA, if things got nasty. In any event he met the challenge and took the chance for a good photo-opportunity. Mounting a tank outside the White House in front of an American TV crew he called for demonstrations and strikes in defence of “democracy”, and though he got enough support for propaganda purposes it remained at token level and the mass of the people remained indifferent. It was clear both at the time and with hindsight that many would have preferred a return to the stability and reasonable standard of living of the old days, and at the same time there was widespread opposition to the idea of a return to capitalism. Indeed, the coup might well have succeeded had the plotters in the State Committee backed their convictions with a little more courage, but many of them had been appointed to their positions by Gorbachev and his refusal to support their venture had taken the wind out of their sales. The end came and the coup fizzled out when soldiers and elite KGB units ordered into the streets by the State Committee refused to fire on or disperse the demonstrators. The plotters were arrested but later released, and although the stakes had been raised the struggle between the Stalinist hardliners trying to preserve the status-quo, to turn back the clock and re-impose their dictatorship, and the open counter-revolutionary capitalist roaders round Yeltsin, remained as yet undecided.
One vitally important question remains to be answered. Where, we may ask, is the tendency for the political revolution, the restoration of soviet democracy and preservation of the socialised property relations, in all this? In fact, as we have explained, the political revolution had up to this point found expression in the fight for the re-habilitation of the victims of the Stalinist purges and the truth of the history of the Soviet Union, the restoration of soviet democracy and the preservation of socialised property relations. Gorbachev had made an important contribution to all this, and what is more from the summit of political power, but the events of August 1991 left his credibility as a political leader in tatters, since he had appointed the main coup leaders to their positions of responsibility in the first place, and they had ended up placing him under house arrest and failing in their bid for power. When he returned from the Crimea he found that he had lost all support and his attempts to reform the CPSU were finally thwarted when the Supreme Soviet banned all its activities on 29th. August 1991. Whatever revolutionary principles he had espoused were now beyond his powers to fulfil, and from now on he could do little more than react to events and fight for his own survival by any means that came to hand. In any case, the tendency to political revolution had by this time been completely side-lined and all that remained was the counter-revolutionary struggle for the restoration of capitalism and the resistance of the bureaucracy struggling to maintain the status-quo.
Yeltsin, now proceeding in direct defiance of Soviet legality and only in his capacity as President of the RSFSR, met with leaders of other republics which had broken with the USSR and in December 1991 they signed the so-called Belavezha Accords which declared the Soviet Union dissolved and superseded by the Commonwealth of Independent States. Since the Soviet Union had now ceased to exist we might, formally speaking, conclude our history at this point, but major class struggles are not decided by formal measures such as the signing of an agreement. Long ago Trotsky had pointed out that it took a revolution and a civil war to bring the Soviet Union into being and it would take a counter-revolution and civil war the overthrow it, and the events which now followed proved him correct.
The measures which Yeltsin now enforced for the dismantling of the Soviet socialist system and the restoration of capitalism were in every sense a counter-revolution. Legal barriers to private manufacture and trade were removed, subsidies to state industry and agriculture were ended, import restrictions were removed, and price controls were abolished. All this caused massive hardship for the working class. Savings were wiped out due to inflation and the state welfare system collapsed reducing masses of people to poverty and actual starvation, while those benefiting from privatisation became private owners of the fragmented Soviet Enterprise System and disgustingly rich. Of course there was spontaneous resistance but without a party of the Bolshevik type to lead and organise it the working class could not resist the counter-revolution. In all this Yeltsin proceeded by Presidential Decree in defiance of the resistance of the “democratically” elected Congress of Peoples Deputies, proving that capitalist Russia was not one atom more free and democratic than had been Stalinist Russia. (Nor is it to this day; under Putin’s rule no less than 14 oppositionist journalists and political commentators have been brutally murdered, including Litvinenko in London. So much for those who equate democracy with capitalism)
The quantitative gains of the counter-revolution met increasing resistance from those struggling to preserve the status quo, the old dictatorship, which was centred on the Congress of Peoples Deputies, and in 1993, as the conflict grew sharper, the inevitable civil war approached. The Deputies challenged the legality of Yeltsin’s rule by decree and threatened to impeach him, and in defiance of the constitution Yeltsin responded by dissolving the Congress on 21st. September and ordering an election on a new constitution. The Constitutional Court of Russia ruled that Yeltsin’s action was illegal and the Deputies then declared Yeltsin deposed, elected Alexandre Rutskoy as acting president and occupied the White House. On 23rd. September police loyal to Yeltsin surrounded the White House and water and power supplies were cut off. What happened next demonstrated the nature of the resistance to Yeltsin; Rutskoy called for members of the Communist Party to join the occupation, and at the same time he called for supporters from the Russian National Unity Party, a fascist party. There was no doubt that Rutskoy and his followers were resisting the counter-revolution led by Yeltsin, but to what end? With fascists in their camp they clearly had no interest in the political revolution and the restoration of soviet legality, but had only their own opportunist ends in view, the preservation of the status quo, the old Stalinist dictatorship, although it is important to understand that this would imply the preservation of the socialised property relations just as it always had.
Be that as it may, the rebels could count on no substantial support from the mass of the workers, who, without a revolutionary leadership to guide them, could not transcend the limits of spontaneous struggle. They demonstrated up to 300,000 strong, usually under a sea of red flags, chanting such slogans as “Soviet Union … Lenin and Socialism … Arrest Yeltsin.” On 28th. September bloody clashes began between police and demonstrators and the first deaths occurred. Demonstrators who marched to the Ostankino TV centre were fired on and returned fire, but they were surrounded by troops in armoured vehicles who fired heavy machine guns into the demonstrators for several hours and at least 80 were killed. Demonstrations took place in other towns and cities, notably Leningrad.
On 4th. October Yeltsin ordered special forces and army units with tanks to storm the White House which the Deputies had occupied. The Deputies resisted with small arms fire and the White House was shelled, and after an intense battle the Deputies surrendered and were marched off to jail. During the whole affair, the duration of which can be counted in days, 187 lost their lives and 437 where wounded, not much of a counter-revolutionary civil war compared to the revolutionary civil war which had brought the Soviet Union into being, but the explanation is simple enough. Wars, or for that matter any conflict, are the more protracted and violent the more evenly the two sides are matched. Where there is a great preponderance of strength on one side the issue is decided much more simply. The resistance to the counter-revolution was weak and fragmented; the working class had no revolutionary leadership and the Stalinist bureaucrats were corrupt, demoralised and represented nothing but their own venal interest. Yeltsin, on the other hand, had the support of global capitalism, which was in a position to come to his aid for the reason we have already explained. We refer of course to the warning given by Trotsky on the day of the Revolution in 1917, and which we have quoted above:-
"We rest all our hope on the possibility that our revolution will unleash the European revolution. If the revolting peoples of Europe do not crush imperialism, then we will be crushed - that is indubitable. Either the Russian revolution will raise the whirlwind of struggle in the west, or the capitalists of all countries will crush our revolution."
As we have seen, the Russian Revolution did raise the whirlwind of struggle in the west, but it was betrayed by the social democratic and Stalinist leaders who succeeded in battening onto the working class and sabotaging their revolutionary initiative, hence the second of Trotsky's alternative predictions came true and the revolution was crushed by the imperialist west, although, incredibly and in spite of the continual attacks, the Nazi invasion, blockades and attempts to undermine it, the Soviet Union lived on till 1991 due to the inner strength of the socialised planned economy. But the most important consideration is that Stalinism is now thankfully a thing of the past, it can no longer be an effective tool in the hands the ruling class, a means of subverting the revolutionary struggle. The urgent necessity now is for the working class to build a revolutionary party of the Bolshevik type and to throw off its social democratic leaders, and the path to revolution will be wide open.
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IX. After the Soviet Union – What Now?
The Soviet Union is now a completed historical process and we must learn the lessons from it just as Marx and Engels drew conclusions from the experience of the first communist revolution, the Paris Commune of 1871, and revised the Communist Manifesto in light of the experience. The Paris Commune lived for seventy-one days, and the Russian Revolution lived for seventy-four years, and much more recently and based on a higher level of culture, hence it is an infinitely richer experience. No one person can draw all the necessary conclusions, it must be a collective effort, but like Marx and Engels we must revise our revolutionary theory in the light of experience, and we venture to say that, if we understand the Soviet Union correctly, no fundamental change in our present theory will be necessary.
How should we begin? In the first place we must have a thorough understanding of the situation we find ourselves in at present, how things stand as regards the class struggle today, otherwise we shall not grasp the significance of the historical events under consideration. The fundamental contradiction contained in the capitalist system, the cause of all its crises and the wars and revolutionary struggles of all kinds, was explained above in a quote from Engels:-
“The means of production, and production itself, had become in essence socialised. But they were subjected to a form of appropriation which presupposes the private production of individuals, under which, therefore, everyone owns his own product and brings it to market. The mode of production is subjected to this form of appropriation, although it abolished the conditions upon which the latter rests … This contradiction, which gives the new mode of production its capitalist character, contains the germ of the whole of the social antagonisms of today.”
What social antagonisms result from this contradiction today? Since the inception of the capitalist mode of production there has been a tendency towards the concentration of capital into larger and larger conglomerations, in particular during the repeated crises which give the process a violent aspect as many small enterprises are bankrupted, leaving market space for the larger enterprises as the crisis passes. Massive monopolies arose during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in this way which outgrew their native territories and became international, Trans-National Corporations or TNC’s. As the TNC’s grew in size their numbers diminished, so that the whole world is now dominated by a few giant organisations. Wal-Mart, the American based super-market chain, has an income which exceeds that of 161 different countries. The Japanese company Mitsubishi, which made the suicide planes during World War II, has a turn-over greater than the Indonesian economy, a country with a population of 240,271,552. Other comparable enterprises are General Motors, Toyota, and ICI, and it is estimated that TNC’s account for two-thirds of world trade.
Under the terms of the Bretton Woods agreement, referred to above, various trade barriers of a general nature were erected and the export of capital from one country to another was restricted, but with the collapse of the agreement in 1971 these conditions ceased to apply. It will be recalled that the first act of the 1979 Tory Government under Thatcher was to remove all restrictions on the export of capital, and the same policy was followed in America under the Reagan administration. National boundaries melted into insignificance and capitalism became global. Capitalism is now organised on a world scale through organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, a re-vamped International Monetary Fund and the World Economic Forum. These organisations dictate the conduct of international trade to the governments of the world through the exercise of economic power. The World Trade Organisation has legal rights to administer international agreements which are arrived at by unelected bodies and to impose stiff sanctions on any country which fails to comply. Under this system domestic arrangements such a health care, education, social security provisions and health and safety laws can be declared a “barrier to trade” and governments are obliged to comply with the rules or face the consequences. This is the cause of the drive to privatisation of public services, the “de-regulation” of industry and the appalling loss of civil and trade union rights and general deterioration of conditions of work and standards of living in recent experience. Ultimately all these social conflicts are expressions of the contradiction between the mode of production and the form of appropriation explained above, as are wars such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq which, as is well known, are dictated by the need of global capitalism to control oil supplies. During the latter part of the nineteenth century and roughly the first three quarters of the twentieth this contradiction took the form, generally speaking, of crises of over production. However, the contradiction between the capitalist mode of production and its form of appropriation now takes a more concrete and much sharper form. Now each crisis, as it occurs, develops further into a new form, crises of credit. Karl Marx explained the mechanics of this process long ago:-
“The credit system appears as the main lever of over-production and over-speculation in commerce solely because the reproduction process, which is elastic by nature, is here forced to its extreme limits, and is so forced because a large part of social capital is employed by people who do not own it and who consequently tackle things quite differently than the owner, who anxiously weighs the limitations of his private capital in so far as he handles it himself. This simply demonstrates the fact that the self-expansion of capital based on the contradictory nature of capitalist production permits an actual free development only up to a certain point, so that in fact it constitutes an immanent fetter and barrier to production, which are constantly broken through by the credit system. Hence, the credit system accelerates the material development of the productive forces and the establishment of the world market. It is the historical mission of the capitalist system of production to raise these material foundations of the new mode of production to a certain degree of perfection. At the same time credit accelerates the violent eruptions of this contradiction – crises – and thereby the elements of disintegration of the old mode of production.” (Capital, Vol. 3, page 441. The “new mode of production” is of course socialism.)
It is necessary to understand precisely how credit operates as an economic and therefore social phenomenon, and the best way to do this is to consider the world’s main trading currency, the US dollar. The Bretton Woods agreement of 1944 settled the value of the dollar at 35 to the ounce of gold, stocks of which were held in bullion form. So long as the face value of the dollars circulating did not exceed the real value of the gold bullion then the dollars represented real existing value, but the US treasury began printing dollars in excess, in other words, the dollar became an inflated currency. The amount of value by which the face value of the dollars exceeded the value of the gold bullion is the level of inflation, and inflation is the first form of credit. In effect the banks, with the connivance of the government which obliges them by printing paper money, are lending themselves money which they then proceed to lend to producing capitalists of all kinds to invest in the production process. At first this took place in a controlled way, at least in so far as it was agreed that the dollar was related to gold at a known rate, but when dollar/gold convertibility was ended in 1971 even this control was removed, and the US began printing paper dollars at an insane rate.
Vast loans of
these worthless paper dollars were made to Europe and to developing countries at
high rates of interest necessitating intense exploitation of labour, low wages,
long hours and severe restrictions on government spending on social services, to
generate the wealth to meet the repayments. The workers fought to resist the
high rates of exploitation and it soon became apparent that the borrowing countries could
not meet the repayments and the loans had to be “re-scheduled”. In extreme
cases the annual repayments exceeded the gross national product of the country
concerned and repayments became impossible. Here is the crisis of the credit
system; what began as the extension of credit had turned into a system of
unredeemable debt, credit had been transformed into its opposite, debt. In 1982
Mexico threatened to default on its $100 billion debt, and things had got so bad
that US banks were writing off billions of dollars of bad debts. In order to
create markets for the goods produced by industries financed through the credit
system it became necessary to extend credit to individual consumers, and now
thousands of individuals find themselves in the same position as did Mexico in
1982, they cannot repay, and in 2006 in the UK 30,000 individuals filed for
personal bankruptcy. In the 1990’s a new term was coined, “negative equity”.
People had been sold mortgages they could never hope to repay, and when they
defaulted their houses were re-possessed and they were homeless while still
saddled with the repayments. By 2004 personal debt in Britain stood at £1
trillion and the average Briton owed over £4,000 in unsecured debt. In the US
the figure was $1.98 trillion with an average household debt of $18,700 by 2003.
The level of debt is rapidly increasing and there must come a time when the limit is reached and the entire monetary system suffers catastrophic collapse, and if direct proof of this is needed the “sub-prime” crisis in the US and the related Northern Rock collapse in 2007 is a case in point. The collapse of this and other banks was the result of its over-extension of credit, and there was real danger that there would be a domino effect and the whole banking system would collapse. Other banks began to write off billions of bad debt and on 21st. January 2008 every stock market in the world went into free-fall and the price of gold reached a new record at $1000 an ounce. The catastrophe was avoided, or more correctly postponed, by massive reductions in interest rates by the US Federal Reserve Bank, Bank of England and the main banks in virtually all countries, followed by government loans counted in hundreds of billions, and by government intervention including a half-arsed nationalisation to save Northern Rock, this latter by a government firmly based on Thatcherite capitalist free market economy philosophy.
The crisis in Britain was of course only a part of the world-wide crisis of capitalism as a whole. In 2010 the European Union was forced to make huge loans to prop up the national economies of Iceland, Greece and Spain and there is more to come. To meet the cost of such payments governments must raise vast sums in the only way a government can, but taxing the people. In other words, the working class must repay the debt. The government loans, of course, solve nothing, because they too are nothing but credit, fictitious value, and the necessary real value to save capitalism can only be created by the labour process, the production of use values in the form of commodities, at a rate which, as mentioned above, has already proved impossible under capitalism. Hence, in the long run the loans, government extension of credit to the banks, must themselves be transformed into debt and therefore reproduce the crisis in intensified form.
Here, without doubt, is the vindication of Marx’s characterisation of the inherent crisis of capitalism and the credit system. Firstly, the credit crisis threatens catastrophic breakdown of the productive systems resulting in human want such as has never before been experienced, but at the same time the production processes have been enormously extended on the basis of credit, which means that it is physically possible to produce at unprecedented levels and to supply every-bodies’ needs with ease. The physical wealth exists, all that is required is for society to take direct control of it and administer it in a planned way instead of allowing the anarchy of the market to continue, and the obvious necessity for government intervention to resolve economic crises is proof of the necessity, but for that social revolution is necessary.
In Britain the political consequences of the deepening world economic crisis following the collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement in 1971 soon began to take shape. As we have explained, in times of crisis the ruling class finds it necessary to increase the rate of exploitation of the working class which in turn leads to sharpening political oppression, denial of rights etc., and which ultimately leads to fascist dictatorship if not effectively resisted. In that year a book entitled Low Intensity Operations written by one Brigadier, (later General), Frank Kitson appeared. Concerned with oppressive measures against an insurgent population, it was a blueprint for police military dictatorship, advocating re-organisation of army, police and other authorities for joint measures to suppress the population. Kitson outlines his approach to the question thus:-
“If a genuine and serious grievance arose, such as might result from a significant drop in the standard of living, all those who now dissipate their protest over a wide variety of causes might concentrate their efforts and produce a situation which was beyond the power of the police to handle. Fumbling at this juncture might have grave consequences even to the extent of undermining the confidence in the whole system of government.” (Low Intensity Operations, page 25, F. Kitson, Faber and Faber Ltd. Since the copyright holder is Her Majesty’s Stationary Office we may conclude that the State itself takes responsibility for this book.)
The first thing we note is that Kitson speaks of genuine, that is, justified grievance, and since the army is in its very essence a violent organisation, he is speaking of violent oppression of justified protest. His warning against “fumbling” is chilling to say the least. Clearly he is in favour of rapid and very violent measures. On page 29 he goes on to say that “no campaign of subversion will make headway unless it is based on a cause with a wide popular appeal.” “Protest”, in Kitson’s sloppy unscientific lexicon, has now become “subversion”, but which ever word we use if it is justified and has wide appeal then violent suppression by military means is criminal and must be resisted by all means. This kind of criminality, which is the essence of fascism, is clearly expressed by Kitson. Speaking of the difficulty presented to the government in the matter judging precisely the right moment to apply violent measures against a peacefully protesting population, Kitson says:-
“In practice this is difficult to achieve because for a long time the government may be unaware that a significant threat exists, and in any case in a so-called free country it is regarded as the opposite of freedom to restrict the spread of a political idea. This seems to apply even when the idea is communism which openly declares itself determined to stamp out freedom itself, and which may well finish up by ordering the country’s foreign policy for the benefit of another power such as Russia or China, rather than in the interests of the people of the country concerned” (Op. Cit., page 67).
Do we live in a free country? Clearly this odious spokesman for the ruling class regards the whole concept of a “so-called” free country with more than a degree of contempt, and at the same time the question of when to use violent means to suppress justified protest which is based on a wide appeal is seen as a matter of expediency. When and where did any communist openly declare himself determined to stamp out all freedom? How would such insane behaviour secure the “spread of his political idea”? We can safely say that no communist ever said any such thing; the only freedom communists wish to suppress is the freedom of the reactionary capitalist class to monopolise the means of production, and until this freedom is finally negated no other freedom is safe. Finally, we note that Kitson, with his suggestion that communists advocated the subordination of the country’s foreign policy to the needs of the Soviet Union and China, makes the deliberate mistake of equating communism with its bitter enemy, Stalinism. Clearly, Kitson believes that, in addition to criminal violence, the outrageous lie is an acceptable tool in his struggle to rob the people of the last vestiges of their freedom. If the reader is left in doubt as to the means and the ends Kitson advocates, (with the official approval of the state), let him speak for himself:-
“An excellent example concerns the way in which the law should work. Broadly speaking there are two alternatives, the first being that the law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal, and in that case it becomes little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public.” (Op. Cit., page 69).
This surely speaks for itself; all that is missing from Kitson’s neo-Nazi proposal is the gas chamber. We shall not bore the reader with the second alternative because although Kitson does not realise it, it is just the same as the first but garbled and expressed in different words.
On the basis of such appalling pseudo-science the ruling class proceeded to develop its machinery of police/military dictatorship, a process which continues to the present. The central pillar of the process was the suppression of the Irish rebublican struggle in Northern Ireland. It was here that the system of internment without trial and erosion of legal rights was tested and developed. The practice of shooting un-armed civilians, which already had a long history, was re-established when 13 civilians demonstrating in defence of civil rights were shot down in Derry on Bloody Sunday, January 1972, again in 1988 when three un-armed republicans were gunned down in the street in Gibralter, and on many other occasions.
During the last few decades the whole system of rights which has under-pinned our society for hundreds of years has been eroded away. Since the return of the Thatcher Tory government in 1979 trade union rights have been effectively negated. A mass of anti-trade union legislation has made the one sanction working people have, the basis of our past and present struggle for all rights, the right to the strike, impossible, because striking workers can be sacked after eight weeks, it is now unlawful for workers to picket anywhere but their own workplace, employers can obtain injunctions to prevent industrial action and sue for compensation for any loss caused, and unions must compensate members disciplined for non-compliance with majority decisions. There is much, much more than this and trade unionism as we knew it in the twentieth century is at an end. The legal rights of the individual have also been decimated. New Labour has enacted 700 new criminal laws during its term of office. The presumption of innocence and right to silence have gone, previous offences can be introduced as evidence of guilt in court, asylum seekers and those suspected of involvement with terrorism can be detained without trial, and it is now an offence to publicly voice certain thoughts concerning terrorism.
So we conclude that we are still in exactly the same position as were the Russian workers in 1917, our choice is between economic collapse and dictatorship under a reactionary bourgeois regime or the transition to socialism, and that it is necessary for us to take the same road as they did, the road to social revolution. Now however, there is a further unavoidable necessity that forces us down this road, the necessity to protect our natural environment, and here we encounter another social antagonism resulting from the contradiction between the mode of production and the form of appropriation of capitalism outlined by Engels above. The metaphysical, anti-dialectical ideology which has dominated society for so long has blinded us to the fact that it is impossible to manufacture so much as a safety-pin without producing harmful emissions, and that both of these dialectically opposite sides of the productive process must be taken into account. Recently responsible scientists predicted that as a result of man-made pollution we shall see as much climate change in the next 100 hundred years as we have seen in the last 12,000, and be in noted that the last ice age was only 11,000 years ago. Even if all carbon emissions cease immediately we still face environmental chaos. Droughts, violent storms and flooding have already begun, whole areas are certain to be flooded causing population migrations on a massive scale, and there will no doubt be other effects we can’t predict. Global capitalism’s answer to this is not to seek a way to protect the planet but to force the consequences of their system on the people. In 2001 the Ministry of Defence reported that contingency plans were being made to fight wars over water resources and land as vast areas are flooded due to storms of unprecedented force and the rise in sea level as the ice caps melt.
For so long as we produce we are bound to pollute, hence it is necessary to reduce all production to items of absolute necessity and strictly apportion consumption to satisfy genuine need, in other words, to put an end to the free market immediately. But capitalism cannot jump out of its skin without ceasing to be capitalism; all wealth produced must first be transformed into capital through commodity exchange on the market. After a series of international conferences on the environment which produced nothing but abstract promises and vague intentions the political representatives of capitalism finally arrived at the only thing they had ever been capable of at the Kyoto summit of 1997 – a way of making profits out of poisoning the planet. This took the form of the bizarre concept of the “carbon credit”, a notional unit which expresses a fixed quantity of carbon dioxide emission. Under this system governments set limits to the carbon dioxide emissions of the producing companies, limits which in practice can only be determined in consultation with the company concerned. This is very convenient, because the company does not even have to invest capital or make so much as a single washer to make money. All it has to do is over-estimate the amount of carbon dioxide emission it expects to produce and it is awarded “carbon credits” equal to this amount. The idea is that, having awarded itself carbon credits it will never use a company can sell them on the market to another company which exceeds its allocated limit. The result is that no limit is placed on carbon emissions at all, indeed the tendency is for it to increase since the higher the limits allocated to a company the more profit is makes. In any case pollution caused by aviation, shipping and imported goods are not subject to any control at all. The opportunities for corrupt political practice in such systems is of course endless, indeed they seem designed for the purpose, hence once again we arrive at the conclusion that the capitalist class must immediately be dispossessed and disempowered and we would be fools indeed if we did not carefully consider the only occasion in history when this was achieved, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the whole experience of the Soviet Union, its achievements and mistakes, its successes and failures.
Nor can it be said that revolutionary struggles are necessarily a distant prospect. Above we have noted that history demonstrates a definite connection between wars and revolutions, that is, war between the rulers of capitalist nations and war between classes, the immediate cause of the class war being the need of the ruling class to have firm control over the workers in its moment of crisis, and the resistance of the workers to such control and to the privations of war. In the past it has always been the official rulers of the countries concerned, the states themselves, that have led their countries to war, but now the imperialist states find themselves engaged with a new kind of enemy. The war between the capitalist nations today takes the form of the so-called “war on terrorism”, a concept coined by the US Government following the horrendous attack on the World Trade Centre on 11th. September 2001.
What precisely is the nature of the so-called war on terrorism? We shall make no sense of it at all unless we understand its class content. In the first place, the imperialist states have maintained an almost constant war on the oil rich Islamic states since the beginning of the twentieth century, and in this way they have succeeded in installing puppet governments based on the ancient feudal dynasties in several countries such as in Saudi Arabia. But these regimes are totally un-democratic and have no real basis of support among the wider population, hence the struggle for national liberation and the control of the peoples over their own sources of wealth, which will never be suppressed, has by-passed the official governments and states and taken the form of clandestine organisations conducting jihad, “holy war”, or terrorism if you wish.
For the present we may safely identify terrorism with the Al’Quaeda movement which was founded about 1988, the Taliban, and their allies, whose stated objective is to drive all western control and influence from Muslim countries and the creation of a new Islamic caliphate, and bearing in mind the level and degree of sophistication of its activities it would be foolish to deny that it has substantial support, notably from such as the disgustingly rich Bin Laden dynasty. However, the most important thing is to discover the real class nature and objectives of these organisations. An Islamic caliphate is a social system which rests on all the usages of the capitalist system; a free market based on finance capital with all the usual features such a private ownership of land and resources, credit and debt, mortgaging, profit making enterprise and therefore exploitation of wage labour, and engagement with the world market. From all this we conclude that the terrorists are fighting to impose a capitalist system, and that the fact that they do not take the form of an officially recognised state is a relative matter of no essential importance. The war between the western states and the terrorists is a war between rival capitalist forces just as were the First and Second World Wars, and the correct response is to adopt the revolutionary defeatist position, to give no support to our rulers and their war, and to oppose to it the only war which is in our interests, the class war. Terrorist methods have always been an entirely bourgeois phenomena, they will never serve the interest of the working class; indeed they can only do serious damage to our cause. We must equally oppose all acts of terrorism be they committed by states or organisations such as Al'Quaeda, but not on moral or pacifist grounds, not because they are terrorists, but because they are capitalists!
Just as we have described in the cases of the two world wars, the different factions of the ruling class cannot go to war between themselves without at the same time going to war on the working class. We are told that all the recent draconian anti-terrorist laws and measures of all kinds which have taken away rights we have had for hundreds of year are intended to protect the people from terrorist acts, but that is only relatively true. It is certainly true that the state has the responsibility to protect the individual against acts of violence of all kinds; any government which fails to do that could not remain in power for long, but the so-called “war on terrorism” is in the first place the war of the present capitalist rulers over the oil rich Islamic region against other capitalist forces who seek to overthrow them and rule in their place, the Taliban etc., a war in which we, the ordinary people, are caught in the cross-fire. The government may well take measures to protect the ordinary person from terrorist bombs, just as they provided us with air-raid shelters in the second world war, but it is the government itself which is placing us in this danger in the first place. The obvious way to remove the danger of bomb outrages is to end the war and withdraw all forces from overseas, and for so long as the governments do not do this then all the anti-terrorist security measures, including the illegal imprisonment of innocent people in Guantanamo Bay, “rendition” for the purpose of torture, draconian laws and such outrages as the brutal killing of Charles Demezes at Stockwell tube station in July 2005, are nothing but a war on the working class designed to force us to accept the privations of national war, forced on the people against their will, just as they were in 1914 and in 1939. Here is the class war contained within the national war, a war which repeatedly brought millions of people onto the streets of London, Europe and America to oppose the illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, raising the prospect of revolution.
Thus, while the tensions of the class war are becoming ever sharper, the domestic and international conditions for world social revolution are becoming more favourable than ever, due to the unprecedented depth of the inherent crisis of capitalism and the huge advances of the productive forces since 1917. The globalisation of the market is rapidly equalizing the conditions of life for the working class and unifying its struggles on an international basis. Social revolution on an international scale is an immediate necessity for mankind and we have the rich experience of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union to draw upon in order to achieve it. One further aspect of the class struggle at present stands out in importance, the defeat of Stalinism in all its manifestations, which, as we have said above, is a huge leap forward for the world revolution, the locomotive of history. Never again shall workers in struggle fall victim to murderous betrayals such as took place in China, Germany, Spain, Chile, and in several countries following the Second World War.
Now that we have a sufficiently concrete picture of the world today, in particular with respect to the conflicting relations between ordinary working people and the global capitalist system under which we are forced to live, we must see what lessons we can learn from the whole experience of the Soviet Union. The most striking lesson we can take from the whole experience of the Soviet era is the lesson of its defeat of capitalism in its fascist form in 1945. It was the highest point of the class struggle since 1917. Hitler was aware of this and he understood that in fighting the Soviets he was above all fighting for world capitalism as such, that he was, in the words of Trotsky, a “super-Wrangle”. At the time of the decisive defeat of the Nazi forces at Stalingrad he issued the following order:-
“Surrender is forbidden. Sixth Army will hold their positions to the last man and the last round and their heroic endurance will make an unforgettable contribution toward the establishment of a defensive front and the salvation of the Western world.” (Quoted in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, page 930, William Shirer.)
The “Western world” was of course synonymous with capitalism, and even though he was at war with other capitalist countries he still considered the war against the Soviets a common cause with them.
Further, let us be clear that the NAZI system was the highest and best achievement of capitalism according to its own internal logic. The working class in Germany was defeated and with the destruction of trade unionism workers were reduced to a disunited and disorganised mass of frightened and totally subservient individuals, competing among themselves for livelihood according to the bourgeois individualistic outlook dictated from above, so that nothing stood in the way of the most ruthless exploitation of wage labour for profit. The concentration camp system crowned the whole process. Long ago Marx explained that capital investment is divided into two parts, capital invested in living labour, which is called variable capital because it increases incrementally during the production process, and fixed capital, money invested in machines, plant and equipment etc, and investment in the physical being of the working class as a reproducing race. During periods of economic crisis fixed capital, idle due to the collapse of the market, must be “asset stripped” and the residual value recovered from it as scrap. In the extermination camps the Nazis took this process, quite natural to the capitalist system, to its ultimate conclusion by recovering the scrap value of the living workers themselves by working them to death and recovering their possessions, then recovering the physical material of their bodies for fertiliser, soap, lampshades etc. The beastial violence perpetrated against the inmates of the slave labour camps was no less a perfectly natural feature of capitalist economics. Speaking of the competition between workers which the ruling class has always found essential to its operations in order to forces wages and conditions to a minimum, Engels has commented:-
“To this competition of the worker there is but one limit; no worker will work for less than he needs to subsist. If he must starve, he will prefer to starve in idleness rather than toil.” (F. Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England.)
Since, for economic reasons, the Nazis worked their slaves at an intensity and rate which necessitated an expenditure of their energy and life forces which exceeded their energy intake in the form of food etc., (it was all carefully calculated by the planners), then only extreme violence and threat of death would induce such slaves to work at all. These were the real reasons for the concentration camp system, and the genocide of six million Jews and a further estimated six million Non-Jews must be understood as the outward form of what was intrinsically a racist socio-economic system. It is true that the Nazis were insanely racist, but their racism served a wider purpose; the suppression a whole class was masked behind the suppression of an arbitrary selection of ethnic groups, and they never forgot who their real enemies were, it was always the “Jewish-Bolshevik menace”.
So in 1945 the socialist system in the Soviet Union defeated capitalism in its most efficient and highly developed form, but there is still a further consideration. While German capitalism, capitalism in its most perfected and productive form, had forged the most powerful war machine yet devised by man, the socialist system of the Soviet Union was limping on all four legs, its leaders corrupt, its planning system a shambles, its productive capacity devastated by the German advance, a sick animal indeed. As for its readiness for war, we recall that Stalin had resisted the advice of his generals and even had the best of them murdered. And yet the Soviet socialist system was still able to out produce the German capitalist economy and administer a crushing defeat, and that is proof beyond doubt that socialism is an infinitely superior mode of production.
There is a lesson of a more particular nature but just as important. We note that the Russian workers succeeded in 1917 because they did not try to achieve their objective through the parliamentary system which, based on the universal franchise, cannot reflect the class nature of society, but instead built a system of soviets as instruments of class struggle which enabled them to pursue their objectives quite independently of any other class, and which became a new system of state rule after the revolution which enabled them to rule as a class. This lesson was reinforced in a negative way by the failure of the revolutions in China and Spain where workers did not succeed in organising themselves independently as a class and consequently suffered defeat and years of harsh oppression.
One lesson we can learn, however, stands clearly above all others in importance. The Russian Revolution was the first revolution in history in which the leaders and organisers were not only fully cognisant of what they were doing, but had developed a sophisticated scientific theory of social revolution and had constructed a political party specifically designed to put their theory into practice. For this reason the Russian Revolution was the highest stage in the world revolution, the most powerful “locomotive” yet created by history. This science came into being when Marx and Engels completed their critique of the Hegelian dialectic from the materialist standpoint, and then extended their scientific outlook from the natural sciences into the realm of social science. Henceforth the history of the human race was understood to be the history of the struggle between classes, and the particular epoch through which we are now living is seen as the struggle between the oppressed, exploited and therefore revolutionary working class, the proletariat, and the ruling and exploiting capitalist class. The practical leader of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky, describes the party as the “brain of the class”, and goes on to say:-
“Thanks to a favourable combination of historic circumstances both domestic and international, the Russian proletariat was headed by a party of extraordinary political clarity and unexampled revolutionary temper. Only this permitted that small and young class to carry out a historic task of unprecedented proportions. It is indeed the general testimony of history – the Paris Commune, the German and Austrian revolutions of 1918, the Soviet revolutions in Hungary and Bavaria, the Chinese revolution of 1925-27, the Spanish revolution of 1931 – that up to now the weakest link in the chain of necessary conditions has been the party. The hardest thing of all is for the working class to create a revolutionary organisation capable of rising to the height of its historic task.” (History of the Russian Revolution, Vol. 3, page 166)
Political clarity can only mean mastery of the Marxist science of the class struggle and world social revolution, hence the party must be a university for the training of workers in this science, and an international organisation capable of putting it into practice for the transformation of society. Such a party must be built without delay.
But we already have a party based on the working class, the Labour Party; why does it not lead the struggle for revolutionary political and social transformation? To answer this question we must learn the lessons of the history of the Labour Party, just as we did the history of the Soviet Union, in order to understand its present place in the class struggle. Labourites and Stalinists are political cousins. The Labour Party, together with the trade unions, is an opportunist parasitic bureaucracy on the back of the working class just as the Stalinist bureaucracy was, but there is an important difference. The Stalinist bureaucrats, united in a mafia-like clique, occupied all the commanding positions in the workers state which they had inherited, or more correctly usurped, from the Bolshevik victory in 1917, and they monopolised the machinery of state for their own opportunist purposes, although in order to defend their privileged positions they were obliged to defend the socialised property relations. The Labour bureaucracy in Britain also defends its privileges, its fat-cat salaries, expense accounts, sinecures and knighthoods by means of the powers of the state, but it is a capitalist, not a workers state. Hence in order to gain positions of state power Labour bureaucrats must undertake to faithfully serve the ruling class by defending the capitalist system of private property. Here is the contradiction which expresses the essence of the Labour Party; it was created by the working class and depends to this day on the financial, practical and moral support of the working class for its very existence, but it unswervingly supports the capitalist class and its system of oppression and exploitation to the detriment of the class upon which it rests.
The Labour Party was founded at a special conference of trade unions, co-operative societies and socialist organisations on 27th. and 28th. February 1900 at the Memorial Hall in London in the form of the Labour Representation Committee, which, as the name suggests, had the strictly limited objective of representing trade union interests in Parliament. Two proposals were put to the conference, one by the Social Democratic Federation and another by Keir Hardie representing the Independent Labour Party. The proposal put by the SDF called for “a distinct party. . . separate from the capitalist parties, based upon the recognition of the class war, having for its ultimate object the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange”, but the ILP proposal was for “a distinct labour group who shall have their own whips and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to co-operate with any party which, for the time being, may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour, or in opposing measures having an opposite tendency.”
The difference between these two proposals is as chalk and cheese. The SDF proposal recognised that the party must be a free and independent class party ready to use all means, parliamentary or otherwise, to achieve the emancipation of the working class through social revolution, that is, a scientifically founded socialist party, while the ILP proposal tied the working class to the coat-tails of the capitalists through the parliamentary system. (We saw how disastrous this was in the case of the Chinese revolution of 1927, the Spanish civil war and on other occasions.) This acceptance that relations between the classes must be regulated by parliament, and the confused idea that capitalist parties might legislate in the interests of the working class, was implicit acceptance of the continuation of the existing class division of society and the hegemony of the capitalist class through the parliamentary system. The ILP proposal was adopted by a big majority, hence the Labour Party came into existence in the first place as an organisation specifically opposed to socialism, (since it rejected the proposal that it should be a socialist party), and wholly at the disposal of the capitalist class, and the proviso that the Labour MP’s would form what we know today as the Parliamentary Labour Party which would “have its own whips and agree upon their policy” made sure that the workers could never mandate or have any control over their MP’s whatsoever. That is why the Labour Party annual conference has absolutely no control over individual Labour MP’s or the Parliamentary Labour Party to this day.
To fully document the Labour Party’s betrayal of the working class it would be necessary to recount every day of its history, since it is a living process rather that an isolated event, but its betrayal along with the Second International in 1914 was certainly a turning point. On August 1st. 1914, three days before the official declaration of war, a manifesto was issued on behalf of the organisations affiliated to the Second International which called on the workers to refuse to allow the government to commit the country to war, signed by the main Labour leaders, Keir Hardie and Arthur Henderson. It took Hardie just thirteen days to change his mind and throw in his lot with the enemies of the working class; in the Merthyr Pioneer on August 14th. he wrote jingoistically, “A nation at war must be united ... With the boom of the enemies guns within earshot the lads who have gone forth to fight their countries battles must not be disheartened by any discordant note at home.” Ramsay MacDonald resigned the Chairmanship of the ILP on pacifist grounds when the majority supported the war, but he too caved in immediately, and on 24th. September wrote in the Leicester Post that “We could not afford either from the point of view of honour or interest to see Germany occupy Belgium”. The so called Marxist Hyndman, who had for some time supported the naval rearmament, tried to commit the British Socialist Party to the war, but here at least there was a principled resistance and he was later expelled. Every Labour leader came out in support of the war or at least failed to oppose it, and in May 1915 the Party, led by Henderson and Clynes, joined the National Coalition Government with Churchill and Asquith. In the following months the very essence of the philosophical and political outlook of the Labour Party leaders was brilliantly displayed for all to see, for while they opposed every imperialist war measure in words they acquiesced with them in deeds. In 1916 the Government, (with Henderson and Clynes in it), introduced the Conscription Bill, and Labour and the trade unions opposed it vociferously. Then came the inevitable change of mind; a special Labour conference decided to offer no further opposition provided that it was accompanied by a “conscription of wealth”, (whatever that meant), and that there should be no industrial conscription. The conscription of wealth never materialised, but compulsory conscription began in March 1916, millions were conscripted and industrial conscription became a reality in practice. This separation of words and deeds is the very essence of the Labour Party, words to cover their betrayal, and deeds to serve the ruling class, and it is abundantly proved that without the assistance of Labour the working class could never have been harnessed to the war effort, if for no other reason than that they had to be included in the National Government. The Labour leaders of the day therefore share fully in the responsibility for the carnage of the First World War, in which 702,000 British workers were killed and 1.67 million maimed, and many more from the Commonwealth countries. This black moment in the history of the Labour Party must never be forgotten, and Labour leaders of today share the responsibility for the First Word Was for so long as they cover it up.
With equal speed the Trade union leaders took their positions with the ruling class in the war against the workers. The TUC declared an “industrial truce” which did not, as might have been thought, imply obligations on both sides, but only that the workers must cease their struggle, and outstanding disputes in mining, the railways, agriculture, docks and building industries were abandoned. To assist the government in the difficult period of transition to a war economy the TUC set up the War Emergency Workers National Committee, whose function was to support the dependants of the soldiers at the front, and those thrown out of employment in the general disruption. The TUC meekly accepted the imposition of the Defence of the Realm Act in 1915 which partially suspended trade union rules, and placed all workers on war production under military type regulations which obliged them to work when, where, and on what the government required. This Act also empowered the government to impose marshal law and censorship, and immediately it was passed the government called a conference of representatives of the entire trade union movement, at which the union leaders accepted the First Treasury Agreement which forbade strikes over the whole of industry and imposed government arbitration. Needless to say, huge profits were made in spite of sham government controls.
In every major struggle since the First World war, the General Strike of 1926, the unemployment of the 1930’s, the Second World War, the Labour Party has held the working class in check and acted as the main prop of the capitalist status quo, and it does so to this day by supporting the wars for oil and perpetuating the anti-trade laws introduced by the Tories. We conclude that the Labour Party is un-reformable, just as was the Stalinist bureaucracy, and that we must create a completely new political party. There is, however, one lesson we can learn from the experience of the Labour Party; the way to build a party is through the only organisations over which it is at least possible to get some control, the trade unions. Presently, all political funds raised by the trade unions are put at the disposal of the Labour Party, and there are organisational connections between the unions and the Party. In recent years the Labour leaders, Blair et al, conscious that much of the Party’s finance now comes from dubious millionaire business-men on a quid pro quo basis, have been voicing a wish to break these links, although it is likely that they are just trying to frighten the union leaders into deeper subservience. On the left of the Labour Party there are many who subscribe to the Utopian brand of socialism and who, in their hopeless confusion, see such a break as a terrible disaster and campaign to preserve the link. The correct course would be the opposite. The objectively given historic necessity is a campaign in the unions to break all contact with the Labour Party and place all funds and resources at the disposal of any organisation which fights directly in the interests of the working class, for independent political power for the working class along soviet lines, and for socialisation of the means of production, exchange and distribution. So far the only organisation in history which has succeeded in the endeavour is the Bolshevik party which was based of the scientific Marxist outlook, and it would be quite irrational to take any other model as our starting point, and further, we have the priceless experience of the Soviet Union to learn from. We do not have much time, we must begin immediately to build such a party since the extinction of the human race within a few generations is a definite possibility under the present global capitalist system.
Terry Button, June 2008
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The following announcement appeared in Pravda, No. 182, 20th. November 1917, (old calendar), during the tense and critical period when the Soviets had just come to power and had elected a Bolshevik Government. A careful reading will reveal that the Soviet system corresponded to the Parliamentary systems with which we are familiar, with the difference that while parliamentary systems, by their very nature, can only rest on the rule of the property owning class, capitalism, the Soviet system which had come into being rested on the working class, the proletariat and peasantry. Just as capitalist governments rest on the Parliament, so the Bolshevik government rested on the Soviet. Both are democratic systems within the class they represent, but with a different class basis. This announcement, drafted by Lenin, is an expression of the intense struggle he waged to nurture Soviet democracy.
FROM THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE OF THE RUSSIAN SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC LABOUR PARTY (BOLSHEVIKS)
TO ALL PARTY MEMBERS AND TO ALL THE WORKING CLASSES OF RUSSIA
It is a matter of common knowledge that the majority at the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies were delegates belonging to the Bolshevik Party.
This fact is fundamental to a proper understanding of the victorious revolution that has just taken place in Petrograd, Moscow and the whole of Russia. Yet that fact is constantly forgotten and ignored by all supporters of the capitalists and their unwitting aides, who are undermining the fundamental principle of the new revolution, namely, all power to the Soviets. There must be no government in Russia other than the Soviet Government. Soviet power has been won in Russia, and the transfer of government from one Soviet party to another is guaranteed without any revolution, simply by a decision of the Soviets, simply by new elections of deputies to the Soviets. The majority at the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets belonged to the Bolshevik Party. Therefore the only Soviet Government is the one formed by that Party. And everybody knows that the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, several hours prior to the formation of the new government, and to the presentation of the list of its members to the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets, summoned to its session three of the most prominent members of the group of Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, Comrades Kamkov, Spiro and Kerelin, and invited them to join the new government. We very much regret that the Left Social-Revolutionary comrades refused: we regard their refusal as impermissible on the part of revolutionaries and champions of the working people. We are ready at any moment to include Left Social-Revolutionaries in the government, but we declare that, as the majority party at the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets, we are entitled to form the government, and it is our duty to the people to do so.
Everybody knows that the Central Committee of our Party submitted a purely Bolshevik list of People’s Commissars to the Second Congress of Soviets, and that the Congress approved this list of a purely Bolshevik government.
The statements to the effect that the Bolshevik government is not a Soviet government are therefore pure lies, and come, and can come, only from the enemies of the people, from the enemies of Soviet power. On the contrary, now, after the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets, and until the Third Congress meets, or until new elections to the Soviets are held, or until a new government in formed by the Central Executive Committee, only a Bolshevik Government can be regarded as the Soviet Government.
* * *
Comrades, yesterday, November 4, several members of the Central Committee of our Party and of the Council of People’s Commissars – Kamenev, Zinoviev, Nogin, Rykov, Milyutin and a few others – resigned from the Central Committee of our Party, and the three last named from the Council of People’s Commissars. In a large party like ours, notwithstanding the proletarian and revolutionary line of our policy, it was inevitable that individual comrades should have proved to be insufficiently staunch and firm in the struggle against the enemies of the people. The tasks that now face our Party are really immense, the difficulties are enormous, and several members of our Party who formerly held posts of responsibility have flinched in the face of the onslaught of the bourgeoisie and fled from our ranks. The bourgeoisie and all its helpers are jubilant over this fact and are maliciously rejoicing, clamouring about disintegration and predicting the fall of the Bolshevik government.
Comrades, do not believe these lies. The comrades who have resigned have acted as deserters, since they not only quitted the posts entrusted to them, but violated the direct decision of the Central Committee of our Party binding them to delay their resignation at least until a decision was taken by the Petrograd and Moscow Party organisations. We strongly condemn their desertion. We are profoundly convinced that all class-conscious workers, soldiers and peasants who belong to or sympathise with our Party will condemn the actions of the deserters with equal severity.
But we declare that the desertion of a few individuals belonging to the leading group of our Party cannot for a moment or in the slightest way shake the unity of the masses who follow our Party and that it therefore will not shake our Party.
You must recall, comrades, that two of the deserters, Kamenev and Zinoviev, acted as deserters and blacklegs even before the Petrograd uprising; for they not only voted against the uprising at the decisive meeting of the Central Committee on October 10, 1917, but, even after the decision had been taken by the Central Committee, agitated among the Party workers against the uprising. It is common knowledge that newspapers which fear to take the side of the workers and more inclined to side with the bourgeoisie (e.g., Novaya Zhin), raised at that time, in common with the whole bourgeois press, a hue and cry about the “disintegration” of our Party, about “the collapse of the uprising”, and so on. Events, however, swiftly refuted the lies and slanders of some and the doubts, waverings and cowardice of others. The “storm” they tried to raise over the efforts of Kamenev and Zinoviev to thwart the Petrograd uprising proved to be a storm in a teacup, while the great enthusiasm of the people, the great heroism of millions of workers, soldiers and peasants in Petrograd, in Moscow, and at the front, in the trenches and in the villages, pushed the deserters out of the way as easily as a railway train pushes aside splinters of wood.
Shame on all the faint-hearted, all the waverers and doubters, on all those who allowed themselves to be intimidated by the bourgeoisie or who succumbed to the outcries of their direct and indirect supporters! There must not be the slightest hesitation among the mass of the workers and soldiers. Our Party stands solidly and firmly, as one man, in defence of Soviet power, in defence of the interests of all the working people, and first and foremost of the workers and poor peasants.
Bourgeois hacks and all those who allowed themselves to be intimidated by the bourgeoisie accuse us in chorus of being uncompromising, of being irreconcilable, or refusing to share power with another party. That is not true, comrades. We have invited and continue to invite the Left Social-Revolutionaries to share power with us. It is not our fault that they have refused. We began the negotiations, and, after the delegates of the Second Congress of Soviets had dispersed, we made all kinds of concessions in the course of these negotiations, even to the point of provisionally agreeing to admit representatives of a section of the Petrograd City Council, that nest of Kornilov men, which will be the first to be swept away by the people should the Kornilovite scoundrels, should the darling sons of the capitalists and landowners, the officer cadets, attempt once more to resist the will of the people as they did last Sunday in Petrograd and as they would like to do again (as is proved by the exposure of the conspiracy of Purishkevich and the documents seized on him yesterday, November 3). But the gentlemen who stand behind the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries and act through them in the interests of the bourgeoisie interpreted our readiness to make concessions as weakness, and took advantage of this readiness to present us with new ultimatums. At the conference on November 3, Mr. Abramovich and Mr. Martov appeared and presented an ultimatum: no negotiations until your government puts a stop to the arrests and to the suppression of bourgeois newspapers.
Both our Party and the Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets refused to accept this ultimatum, which obviously emanated from the supporters of Kaledin, the bourgeoisie, Kerensky and Kornilov. The conspiracy of Purishkevich and the appearance in Petrograd on November 5 of a delegation from a unit of the 17th Army Corps threatening us with a march on Petrograd (a ridiculous threat, for the advanced detachments of these Kornilovites have already been beaten and have fled at Gatchina, while most of them have refused to fight against the Soviets) - all these events have proved who were the real authors of the ultimatum of Abramovich and Martov and whom these people really served.
Let the working people, therefore, remain calm and firm! Our Party will never yield to the ultimatums of the minority in the Soviets, the minority who have allowed themselves to be intimidated by the bourgeoisie and, despite their “good intentions” virtually act as puppets in the hands of the Kornilov gang.
We stand firmly by the principle of Soviet power, i.e., the power of the majority obtained at the last Congress of Soviets. We agreed, and still agree, to share power with the minority in the Soviets, provided that minority loyally and honestly undertake to submit to the majority and carry out the programme, approved by the whole Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets, for gradual, but firm and undeviating steps towards socialism. But we shall not submit to any ultimatums of groups of intellectuals who are not backed by the people, and who in actual fact are backed only by the Kornilovites, the Savinkov men, the officer cadets, etc.
Let the working people, therefore, remain calm and firm! Our Party, the party of the Soviet majority, stands solid and united in defence of their interests and, as before, behind our Party stand the millions of the workers in the cities, the soldiers in the trenches and the peasants in the villages, prepared at all costs to achieve the victory of peace and the victory of socialism.
Taken from Collected Works, V.I.Lenin, Vol. 26, page 303.
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It was inevitable that, under conditions of civil war, blockade and extremely severe shortages of all kinds, cheating and corruption would begin in state departments following the Revolution. Lenin found it necessary to wage a ferocious struggle against it. The letter below concerns a case of corruption in the Moscow Soviet with respect to the allocation of housing. An enquiry led by Divilkovsky had uncovered corrupt practices, but the Soviet officials concerned, who of course were also Party members, declared the findings unfounded and arranged for a second enquiry by the Party, through which they hoped to reverse to findings of Divilkovsky’s enquiry. Lenin had already issued instructions that all cases of corruption should be dealt with severely, and Divilkovsky proposed that action should be taken against the guilty parties.
Cynics argue that greed and what they call “human nature” make the progress towards communist society impossible, failing to understand that for wholly objective reasons we have no choice but to make the attempt. This letter from Lenin shows that, even though such corruption as this ultimately unfolded into the Stalinist dictatorship, the Bolsheviks struggled courageously for Soviet legality and that their example can be followed today.
Letter to the Politbureau of the C.C., R.C.P, (B.)
To Comrade Molotov for members of the Politbureau
This is not the first time that the Moscow Committee (and Comrade Zelensky too) is showing indulgence towards Communist criminals, who deserve to be hanged. This is done "by mistake". The danger of this "mistake", however, is enormous. I move:
That comrade Divilkovsky's
proposal be adopted.
That the Moscow Committee [of the
Party] be severely reprimanded for being indulgent to Communists (the
form of indulgence - a special commission)
That it be confirmed to all
Gubernia Party Committees that for the slightest attempt to
"influence" the courts in the sense of "mitigating" the responsibility of
Communists, the C.C. will expel such persons from the Party.
That a circular be issued
notifying the People's Commissariat for Justice (copies to the Gubernia
Party committees) to the effect that the courts are obliged to punish
Communists more severely than non-Communists. People's judges and
members of the Board of the Commissariat for Justice who fail to observe
this are to be dismissed from office.
That the Presidium of the
All-Russia Central Executive Committee [of the Soviet] be asked to
inflict a reprimand on the Presidium of the Moscow Soviet in the press.
P.S. It is a crying shame,
disgraceful - the ruling Party defends "its own" scoundrels!!
Written March 18, 1922
Taken from Collected Works, V.I. Lenin, Vol. 42, page 408.
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In 1929 Winston Churchill published a book entitled The Aftermath, a historical work concerned with developments following the First World War. In this work he expresses his bitter disapproval of the Russian Revolution and heavily criticises Lenin. Here is Trotsky’s answer which was published in John O’London’s Weekly. With deep insight, Trotsky demonstrates how Churchill’s understanding of Lenin and the Revolution is hopelessly distorted because his entire outlook on life, and his historical depiction of the world, is distorted to conform to his own material interests and above all those of the class he represents. Churchill died long ago, but what is important here is not the mistakes of this one man, but the fact that his method, as we have described it, is the generally adopted method of all ruling class historians and political commentators. They adopt it quite unconsciously and it is the general rule, which explains why almost all of the history of the Soviet Union is such pathetically muddled nonsense.
Churchill as Biographer and Historian
L. Trotsky, 1929
In 1918-19 Mr. Churchill attempted to overthrow Lenin by force of arms. In 1929 he attempts a psychological and political portraiture in his book, The Aftermath. Perhaps he was hoping thereby to secure some sort of literary revenge for his unsuccessful appeal to the sword. But his methods are no less inadequate in the second mode of attack than they were in the first.
“His sympathies, [Lenin’s], cold and wide as the Arctic Ocean; his hatreds, tight as a hangman’s noose”, writes Mr. Churchill. Verily, he juggles with antithesis as an athlete with dumbbells. But the observant eye soon notices that the dumbbells are painted cardboard and the bulging biceps are eked out with padding.
The true Lenin was instinct with moral force – a force whose main characteristic was its absolute simplicity. To try to assess him in terms of stage athletics was bound to spell failure.
Mr. Churchill’s facts are miserably inaccurate. Consider his dates, for instance. He repeats a sentence, which he has read somewhere or other, referring to the morbid influence exercised on Lenin’s evolution by the execution of his elder brother. He refers the fact to the year 1894. But actually the attempt against Alexander III’s life was organised by Alexander Ulianov (Lenin’s brother) on March first 1887. Mr. Churchill avers that in 1894 Lenin was sixteen years of age. In point of fact he was then twenty-four, and in charge of a secret organisation at Petersburg. At the time of the October Revolution he was not thirty-nine, as Mr. Churchill would have it, but forty-seven years old. Mr. Churchill’s errors in chronology show how confusedly he visualizes the period and people of which he writes.
But when from the point of view of chronology and fisticuffs, we turn to that of the philosophy of history, what we see is even more lamentable.
Mr. Churchill tells us that discipline in the Russian army was destroyed, after the February Revolution, by an order abolishing the salute to officers. This was the point of view of discontented old generals and ambitious young subalterns; otherwise, it is merely absurd. The old army stood for the supremacy of the old classes and was destroyed by the revolution. When peasants had taken away the landowners property the peasants’ sons could hardly continue to serve under officers who were the sons of the landowners. The army is no mere technical organisation, associated only with marching and promotion, but a moral organisation, founded on a definite scheme of mutual relations between individuals and classes. When a scheme of this kind is upset by revolution, the army unavoidably collapses. It was always thus …
Mr. Churchill grants that Lenin had a powerful mind and will. According to Lord Birkenhead, Lenin was purely and simply non-existent; what really exists is a Lenin myth (see his letter in The Times, February 26, 1929). The real Lenin was a nonentity upon which the colleagues of Arnold Bennett’s Lord Raingo could look down contemptuously. But despite this one difference in their appraisal of Lenin, both Tories are exactly alike in their utter incapacity to understand Lenin’s writings on economy, on politics, and on philosophy – writings that fill over twenty volumes. [The compilation of Lenin’s Collected Works has now reached forty-eight volumes.]
I suspect that Mr. Churchill did not even deign to take the trouble carefully to read the article which I wrote for the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1926. If he had, he would not have committed those crude, glaring errors of dates which throw everything out of perspective.
One thing Lenin could not tolerate was muddled thought. He had lived in all European counties, mastered many languages, had read and studied and listened and observed and compared and generalised. When he became the head of a revolutionary country, he did not fail to avail himself of this opportunity to learn conscientiously and carefully. He did not cease to follow the life of all other countries. He could read and speak fluently English, German and French. He could read Italian and a number of Slavic languages. During the last years of his life, though overburdened with work, he devoted every spare minute to studying the grammar of the Czech language in order to have access, without intermediaries, to the inner life of Czechoslovakia.
What can Mr. Churchill and Lord Birkenhead know of the workings of this forceful, piercing, tireless mind of his, with its capacity to translate everything that was superficial, accidental, external, into terms of the general and fundamental? Lord Birkenhead in blissful ignorance imagines that Lenin never had thought of the password: “Power to the Soviets”, before the Revolution of February 1917. But the problem of the Soviets and of their possible functions was the very central theme of the work of Lenin and his companions from 1905 onwards, and even earlier.
By way of completing and correcting Mr. Churchill, Lord Birkenhead avers that if Kerensky had been gifted with a single ounce of intelligence and courage, the Soviets would never have come into power. Here is, indeed, a philosophy of history that is conducive to comfort! The army falls to pieces in consequence of the soldiers having decided not to salute the officers whom they meet. The contents of the cranium of a radical barrister happens to have been one ounce short, and this deficiency is enough to lead to the destruction of a pious and civilized community! But what indeed can a civilisation be worth which at the time of dire need is unable to supply the needful ounce of brain?
Besides, Kerensky did not stand alone. Around him was a whole circle of Entente officials. Why were they unable to instruct and inspire him, or, if need was, replace him? To this query Mr. Churchill can find but this reply: “The statesmen of the allied nations affected to believe that all was for the best, and that the revolution constituted a notable advantage for the common cause” – which means that the officials in question were utterly incapable of understanding the Russian Revolution – or, in other words, did not substantially differ from Kerensky himself.
Today, Lord Birkenhead is incapable of seeing that Lenin, in signing the Brest-Litovsk peace, had shown any particular foresight. (I do not insist upon the fact that Lord Birkenhead represents me as in favour of war with Germany in 1918. The honourable Conservative, on this point, follows far too docilely the utterances of the historians of the Stalin school.) He considers, today, that the peace was then inevitable. In his own words, “only hysterical fools” could have imagined that the Bolsheviks were capable of fighting Germany: a remarkable, though tardy acknowledgment!
The British government of 1918 and, indeed, all the Entente governments of that time, categorically insisted on our fighting Germany, and when we refused to do so replied by blockade of, and intervention in, our country. We may well ask, in the energetic language of the Conservative politician himself: Who were, at that moment, the hysterical fools? Was it not they who decided the fate of Europe? Lord Birkenhead’s view would have been very farseeing in 1917; but I must confess that I, for one, have little use for foresight which asserts itself twelve years after the time when it could have been of use.
Mr. Churchill brings up against Lenin - and it is the very keystone of his article - statistics of the casualties of the civil war. These statistics are quite fantastic. This, however, is not the main point. The victims were many on either side. Mr. Churchill expressly specifies that he includes neither the deaths from starvation nor the deaths from epidemics. In his would-be athletic language he describes that neither Tamerlane nor Genghis Khan were as reckless as Lenin in expenditure of Human lives. Judging by the order he adopts, one would think Churchill holds Tamerlane more reckless than Genghis Khan. In this he is wrong; statistical and chronological figures are certainly not the strong point of this finance minister. But this is by the way.
In order to find examples of mass expenditure of human life, Mr. Churchill must needs go to the history of Asia in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The great European war of 1914-18 in which ten million men were killed and twenty million crippled, appears to have entirely escaped his memory. The campaigns of Genghis Khan and Tamberlane were child’s play in comparison with the doings of civilised nations from 1914 to 1918. But it is in a tone of lofty moral indignation that Mr. Churchill speaks of the victims of civil war in Russia – forgetting Ireland, and India, and other countries.
In short, the question is not so much the victims as it is the duties and the objects for which war was waged. Mr. Churchill wishes to make clear that all sacrifices, in all parts of the world, are permissible and right so long as the object is the power and sovereignty of the British Empire – that is, of the governing classes. But the incomparably lesser sacrifices are wrong which result from the struggle of peoples attempting to alter the conditions under which they exist – as occurred in England in the seventeenth century, in France at the end of the eighteenth, in the United States twice, (eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), in Russia in the twentieth century, and as will occur more that once in the future.
It is in vain that Mr. Churchill seeks assistance in the evocation of the two Asiatic warrior chiefs, who both fought in the interests of nomadic aristocracies, but yet aristocracies coveting new territories and more slaves – in which respect their dealings were in accordance with Mr. Churchill’s principles, but certainly not with Lenin’s. Indeed, we may recall that Anatole France, the last of the great humanists, often expressed the idea that of all kinds of the bloodthirsty insanity of war, the least insane was civil war, because at least the people who waged it did so of their own accord and not by order.
Mr. Churchill has committed yet another mistake, a very important one, and, indeed, from his own point of view, a fatal one. He forgot that in civil wars, as in all wars, there are two sides; and that in this particular case if he had not come in on the side of a very small minority, the number of the victims would have been considerably less. In October, we conquered power almost without a fight. Kerensky’s attempt to reconquer it evaporated as a dewdrop falling on red-hot stone. So mighty was the driving power of the masses that the older classes hardly dared attempt to resist.
When did the civil war, with its companion, the Red Terror, really start? Mr. Churchill being weak in the matter of chronology, let us help him. The turning point was the middle of 1918. Led by the Entente diplomatists and officers, the Czechoslovakians got hold of the railway line leading to the east. The French ambassador Noulens organized resistance at Yaroslavl. Another foreign representative organised deeds of terror and an attempt to cut off the water supply of Petersburg. Mr. Churchill encourages and finances Savinkov; he is behind Yudenich. He determines the exact dates on which Petersburg and Moscow are to fall. He supports Denikin and Wrangel. The monitors of the British fleet bombard our coast. Mr. Churchill proclaims the coming of “fourteen nations”. He is the inspirer, the organiser, the financial backer, the prophet of civil war; a generous backer, a mediocre organiser, a very bad prophet.
He had been better advised not to recall memories of those times. The number of the victims would have been, not ten times, but a hundred or a thousand times smaller but for British guineas, British Monitors, British tanks, British officers, and British food supplies.
But Mr. Churchill understands neither Lenin nor the duties that lay before him. His lack of comprehension is at its worst when he attempts to deal with the inception of the New Economic Policy. For him, Lenin thereby gave himself the lie. Lord Birkenhead adds that in ten years the very principles of the October Revolution were bankrupt. Yes: he who in ten years failed to do away with the miners’ unemployment, or palliate it, expects in ten years we Russians can build up a new community without committing one mistake, without one flaw, without one setback; a wonderful expectation which gives us the measure of the primitive and purely theoretical quality of the honourable Conservative’s outlook. We cannot foretell how many errors, how many setbacks, will mark the course of history; but to see, amid the obstacles and deviations and setbacks of all kinds, the straight line of historical evolution was the achievement of Lenin’s genius. And had the Restoration been successful at the time, the need for radical changes in the organisation of the community would have remained as great.
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