Note from the Editor: Below we reprint two statements from our archive about the failed Stalinist coup in August 1991 in the decaying Soviet Union. They were published by the predecessor organization of the founder of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) - the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI). One statement (“The Failed Coup in the USSR”) was issued on 30 September 1991, the other (“Revolution and counter-revolution in the Soviet Union”) on 30 August that year.
A summary of the RCIT's theoretical understanding of Stalinism can be found in Michael Pröbsting's book "Cuba‘s Revolution Sold Out? The Road from Revolution to the Restoration of Capitalism" (see chapter II). It can be read online here. Michael Pröbsting is the International Secretary of the RCIT. He was a long-time leading member of the LRCI (1989-2011) until he and other comrades were expelled by the majority of this organization which had entered the road of centrist degeneration.
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The Failed Coup in the USSR
30 September 1991
The failed coup d’état of 19-21 August has deepened the pre-revolutionary situation in the USSR. It opens up a new phase in the history of the disintegration of the rule of the Soviet bureaucracy. As in Eastern Europe in the last quarter of 1989 it poses the question of political revolution or social counter-revolution. It is this question that the Soviet proletariat will face and must find a solution to in the coming months and years. On 19 August the clique of “hardliners” within the Council of Ministers, discovering hitherto unsuspected medical capabilities, diagnosed Mikhail Gorbachev as too sick to continue to wield the State Presidency. In his place stepped Gennadi Yanayev and behind him the real junta: Pugo, Yazov, Kryuchov and the uncertain prime minister Pavlov, representatives of the layer of bureaucratic conservatives in the military, heavy industry, interior ministry, KGB and armed forces.
The conservative clique held back from acting until the very last possible minute, on the eve of the signing of the new Union Treaty. This in itself indicates the relative weakness and desperation of the coup makers Their chosen battleground—the maintenance of the integrative ministries and mechanisms of the all-Union federation—holds no appeal for the masses and is not a decisive issue for important layers of the bureaucracy in the republics. The coup makers acted because they had no other choice. They had to act even if their hand was not strong. Had they waited a day longer, Gorbachev’s concessions would have led to the radical dissolution of the powers and privileges of a major section of the Stalinist bureaucracy.
But behind this decision to oust Gorbachev lay months of a creeping coup, one which had been checked and frustrated by Gorbachev and by the Yeltsinite opposition both within the state apparatus and beyond. Late last year it was Gorbachev himself who, under pressure of the conservatives and the disintegrating economic and national situation, blocked with the conservatives and appointed his future jailors, Yanayev and Pavlov and boosted the powers of the rest. But this clique became disillusioned with Gorbachev’s failure to use his new presidential powers to arrest the economic and political decline.
This was sharply revealed in Gorbachev’s ineffectiveness in the face of the miners’ strike. From mid-April Gorbachev moved back towards making major concessions to the pro-market liberals and republic leaders. In June the clique unsuccessfully tried a constitutional coup by strengthening the powers of the Council of Ministers. Another insufferable attack on the bureaucracy was delivered by Yeltsin when he banned the CPSU from organising in the factories in the Russian Republic. When in July Gorbachev returned empty handed from the G7 summit and offered to give the republics most of the powers currently invested in the centre, the erstwhile allies and appointees of Gorbachev saw the writing on the wall and tried to extend the President’s holiday in the Crimea into a permanent retirement.
The State Committee’s state of emergency decree was a reactionary attempt to clamp down upon the forces unleashed by glasnost in order to preserve the caste’s privileges. The main orders banned political parties and strikes, proscribed opposition publications, closed down TV and radio stations; troops went onto the streets to enforce these provisions. None of decrees were undertaken to defend the post-capitalist planned property relations even if it could have led in the short term to a strengthening of the apparatus of bureaucratic control over distribution of food and essential supplies.
The members of the State Committee wanted to preserve their caste privileges and dictatorship. This might mean slowing down or even temporarily halting the process of restoration. For example, Geraschenko, the head of the state central bank, had opposed the Union Treaty on the grounds that it would make it “impossible to pursue a single monetary and credit policy”; another coup maker, Starodbtsev, in charge of state farms, feared the break up of the collectives into private holdings. But none of them dared to claim at the outset of the coup that they were defending in principle the post-capitalist property relations. Indeed, they have no strategic or principled opposition to the restoration of capitalism. Rather, they insist that they maintain their privileges in the process. In short, they wanted an authoritarian perestroika that would allow them to become a new ruling class in a capitalist Soviet Union.
It would have been wrong to have given even critical support to their actions. Our task is to get the working class to defend their post-capitalist property relations in the context of defending their democratic gains. The destruction of the democratic gains would have made it impossible to raise the consciousness of the masses to a level adequate to this task. Moreover, nothing the State Committee would have done would have halted the tempo or direction of capitalist restoration in Eastern Europe; on the contrary, the clique’s actions ensured that imperialism took steps to accelerate the process of integration and provide a further ideological weapon for the restorationists against the working class of Eastern Europe. Troop withdrawals from Eastern Europe were to continue. Finally, the coup makers rushed to assure the imperialists that all the pro-imperialist agreements undertaken by Gorbachev would be honoured.
The State Committee were emboldened to move by the widespread resentment towards Gorbachev inside the USSR, and sense that the masses are too disillusioned with his domestic failures to leap to his defense. The masses did not take up shouting Gorbachev’s name on the streets of Leningrad and Moscow. The cynical decree on price freezes and wage rises was calculated to drive a wedge into the opposition between those who are sceptical about the value of the democratic rights so far obtained and those who feel they are not worth defending if food can be put on the table by the new clique.
The opposition to the state of emergency was uneven and far from generalised. Miners went on strike in protest, as did some workers in Leningrad; makeshift barricades were erected in Moscow. From the outset the coup was hesitantly and unconfidently undertaken; communications lines within the USSR and to the outside world were left intact; few arrests of key oppositional figures were made. Given the fissures that already existed within the armed forces this relatively low level of resistance was sufficient to see the coup attempt fall apart. Quite simply, neither the army nor the interior ministry troops could be relied upon to carry out a Tiananmen Square style massacre in Red Square. That this was so was due in large measure to the incremental effects of six years of glasnost inspired changes in the Soviet high command and officer caste. It was also due no doubt to the lessons absorbed by the army as a result of its retreat from Eastern Europe in the face of popular discontent and the unwillingness to do differently in the USSR. It also failed because the coup makers had no genuine alternative political or economic policy to Gorbachev beyond the defence of their own narrow caste interests. The events of the last week have proven that the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR was not qualitively different from the bureaucracies in the East European states in terms of its willingness or ability to defend the property relations upon which it draws its privileges and power.
The manner in which the coup attempt took place illustrated the profound disarray of the CPSU. The coup makers could not get a quorum for a Central Committee meeting to depose Gorbachev as General Secretary. Gorbachev was replaced as Soviet President, not as General Secretary. Party declarations on the coup were completely absent. Just as with the Jaruselski coup in Poland in 1981 the unreliable and fragmented Stalinist party had to be bypassed by the coup makers. Power within the nomenklatura resides clearly within the military industrial ministries, not with the party organs. Now the coup has failed, the CPSU is revealed as no longer the principal ruling power in the USSR. If it survives it will undergo further drastic changes. Its coming Congress was already due to adopt a social democratic programme in the style of the German PDS. As a power base for Gorbachev with such a transformed programme it may survive.
In the three days of the coup attempt it was essential for all proletarian forces to have blocked with all those forces actively resisting the coup to prevent the coup makers from achieving success in their aims. It was natural and necessary to bloc with all and anyone who by deeds was prepared to resist the closure of parties (except fascist ones), publications and democratically elected forums (e.g. republican parliaments) that the workers have expressed themselves through. As the days wore on the Russian parliament was increasingly the focus of the resistance to the coup; the mass demonstrations and the barricades was rapidly turning the parliament into the site of one side of an embryonic dual power. The strikes did not have time to spawn a network of alternative proletarian forms of organisation against the coup, and therefore also potentially against the democratic restorationists also. The ability of the pro-capitalist and nationalist Yeltsin to lead the limited resistance to the coup reveals the depth of the crisis of working class leadership. Such anti-working class forces gain a hearing in the working class due to the absence of a class conscious revolutionary leadership which would combine a struggle to destroy the bureaucracy with a defence of post-capitalist property relations. Imperialist agents have worked with the indigenous restorationists to consciously win the independent unions to their side.
But in these coup days there were strict limits to the bloc with the “democratic restorationists” and all such blocs had to be carried out within the context of no political support for Yeltsin at all. While other republic leaders appealed to imperialism for help or preached calm and sought to negotiate, Yeltsin thrust himself forward as the leader of mass resistance. He called for a general strike and openly incited the army to disaffection. It is clear why he, of all the republics’ leaders, had the most to gain from the Union Treaty and most to lose at the hands of the State Committee. Yeltsin’s calls—for active resistance to the coup, for a general strike against it—needed to be supported and taken up by workers’ organisations, which at the same time needed to retain their political independence from the Yeltsin restorationists.
Yeltsin—the greatest danger
The greatest danger to the working class now that the coup has collapsed is Yeltsin. The greatest tragedy for the Soviet working class would be to hitch itself to the wagon of Yeltsin or the Democratic Forum. A secondary danger is to actively seek the re-establishment of the power of Gorbachev. Yeltsin is no friend of the working class. He represents all the elements in the former bureaucratic caste who have abandoned the prospect of bureaucratic parasitism on proletarian property relations in favour of becoming the new ruling class of a restored capitalist Russia.
His pro-capitalist policies spell mass unemployment and a destruction of social welfare for tens of millions of workers; he wants to open up the 120 million Soviet workers to unbridled imperialist exploitation. His actions in promoting and then ending the miners’ strike of the spring show that his calls to mass action are motivated by his own narrow power struggles against a rival section of the disintegrating bureaucratic caste. In the aftermath of the failed coup Yeltsin is increasing his attempt to place the armed forces under his command. To the degree that he is successful he will deploy them in the future against the workers he has so cynically called to action.
Imperialism naturally frowned upon the coup. It feared where it may lead, how far the clampdown will lead to a retreat from the process of market reform and opening up of the USSR to imperialist penetration. But Gorbachev had already carried out most of his possible mandate; he had very nearly, if not entirely, exhausted his historic mission for them. He was a necessary detonator of the now irreversible process of reform in Eastern Europe; he was essential to the delivery of disarmament and the suicide of the Warsaw Pact. Gorbachev’s stability was very important in securing the alliances for the US victory in the Gulf War and the opening phase of the new world order. But these are past conquests for the imperialists.
That is why imperialism, especially the USA, at first reacted cautiously on news of the coup. Their first response was to insist that the coup makers reassure the west they would honour their commitments and treaties. The sanctions that were announced were diplomatic courtesies to Gorbachev and a gesture of solidarity with Yeltsin, but they were not intended to inspire the isolation of the USSR’s new rulers, still less re-run the Cold War. Some imperialists even voiced the opinion that a new leadership would stem the inevitable tide of economic refugees to the west as capitalism is restored in the USSR.
Only, later, when it became clear that the coup was failing, did they talk of the re-establishment of the status quo and even more importantly the role that Yeltsin played in rescuing Gorbachev. Indeed, new conquests for the imperialists lie in the direction of Yeltsin and the Democratic Forum. Despite their self-congratulation the imperialists are unable to guarantee a smooth and peaceful process of capitalist restoration over the next months and years. Under the leadership of Yeltsin and/or Gorbachev the transition ahead will be fraught with conflicts. The pre-revolutionary situation is far from over in the USSR.
In the immediate aftermath of the failed coup it is possible to discern only the main line of development. The events of the past week, whilst they have blocked the road to a Stalinist bureaucratic counter-revolution aimed against the political liberties of the working class, have acted as a catalyst to speed up the social counter-revolution; the cause of the democratic restorationists has been immeasurably advanced. The tempo of the demise of the nomenklatura has likewise been accelerated.
But it is also true that the bourgeois democratic and proletarian reform organisations will also be strengthened in the short term at least. Glasnost will be deepened and the working class may be awakened from its cynicism. Elections will be brought forward and become more universal as all forces seek a democratic mandate for their plans and in this way seek to dislodge the nomenklatura from their posts. The CPSU will fragment and a flowering and strengthening of bourgeois political forces will occur.
The future of Gorbachev is unclear. Certainly, the ground has been removed for a continuation of the previous form of Soviet Bonapartism that relied upon balancing between the camps of democratic restoration and conservative resistance. But a different kind of Gorbachev Bonapartism may emerge in the next period, one that balances between the ambitions of Yeltsin and imperialism, wherever they do not coincide. On the one side, Yeltsin seeks a further revision of the Union Treaty in the direction of more republican power and a confederation which leaves Russia with its own armed forces. But imperialism does not favour the break up of the USSR, beyond the inevitable departure of the Baltic states. They may well need Gorbachev to act as a check and balance against Yeltsin.
What is clear for revolutionaries and all those concerned with the strengthening of the newly founded organisations of the Soviet working class and of the preservation of the planned property relations is that the proletarian resistance to the coup must be deepened and broadened now into a fight against the pro-capitalist measures of Yeltsin and Gorbachev and resistance to all and any attempts to use the armed forces against working class resistance to capitalist restoration. Soviet workers must fight for:
• Out with the coup makers and their supporters at every level. For workers’ tribunals in every republic to try those involved. For workers’ commissions of inspection of the KGB and the army High Command
• Lift the ban on parties (except fascist ones), strikes, publications and the independent media; No coups, no constitutional dictators
• Self-determination for the republics; special armed forces and interior ministry troops out of the republics seeking independence. Recognise Estonian’s declaration of independence. For soviet workers’ republics in the Baltic states.
• No confidence in the help from imperialism; purge the media of bureaucrats and imperialist agents
• Release all political prisoners arrested under the state of emergency
• No political support for Gorbachev, Yeltsin or the Democratic Forum
• Down with constitutional dictators. End the Bonapartist powers of the presidencies of all republics and the Federation
• For workers’ councils elected in every workplace and region of the USSR
• Elect rank and file soldiers’ committees in the army. Disband immediately all special armed forces and the KGB. Open all the files of the KGB to workers’ inspection.
• Against emergency plans for the establishment of the market. For a workers’ emergency plan to combat the economic crisis drawn up by the workers’ organisations. For working class control of the plan; for elected workers’ and housewives’ committees to oversee food distribution
• For proletarian political revolution to smash the dictatorship of the Stalinists and prevent the restoration of capitalism
• For a Leninist Trotskyist party in the USSR
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Revolution and counter-revolution in the Soviet Union
Adopted by the International Secretariat of the LRCI, 30 August 1991
The failure of the State Committee for the State of Emergency (SCSE) to carry out its coup of 19-20 August marks a turning point similar in magnitude to the 1989-90 events in Eastern Europe. Launched by the conservative core of the nomenklatura to halt the “malicious mockery of all the institutions of the state” the SCSE’s ignominious collapse has only served to propel their arch enemies into a dominant situation within the fragments of the state power in the USSR.
The coup itself turned an eighteen month pre-revolutionary crisis into a revolutionary situation in which the ruling Stalinists lost control over their armed forces and could no longer deploy them to defend their power. The working class failed to seize the initiative and overthrow the dictatorship with its own organisation and armed power and rescue the post-capitalist property relations from their deathly grip. Within the present dual power the working class can still open up the road to the political revolution on condition that it finds a political leadership willing and able to do this.
In the early weeks after the failed coup the working class of the USSR faces a dual task. On the one hand, it must complete the destruction of the dictatorship of the Stalinist caste by its own hand; on the other, it must turn its fire on the Yeltsinite regime that will conserve as much of the old dictatorship and political apparatus as will be needed to suppress the workers in the months and years ahead as they push towards capitalism.
Ever since the 1990 elections to municipal and city soviets and the presidential elections in the republics there has been a situation of growing dual power: on the one side, the conservative faction of the old nomenklatura, and on the other, a coalition of the forces of bourgeois restoration, republican independence and the workers and petit-bourgeoisie. The former hoped by their actions on 19 August to defend their privileges on the basis of post capitalist property relations and sought political legitimacy in the Supreme Soviet. Yet their real power base lay in the central economic control agencies (banking, planning industrial ministries etc), the central agencies of repression (KGB, MVD and the SAF) and the central administrative and social co-ordination apparatus (the all-Union federal administration, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), the remains of the old trade unions). Those for whom the SCSE spoke were all pragmatically opposed to Gorbachev’s “market socialist” reforms whenever they threatened them. On the other hand, they had no alternative programme of reform to his. Thus their only real proposals were to dilute and slow down Gorbachev’s various plans, so as to preserve their own institutions and to carry out what reforms this left in an authoritarian or dictatorial fashion.
By contrast, the coalition of the forces opposed to this conservative faction were heterogeneous: proto-exploiters keen to enlarge the scope of their wealth, workers determined to defend the democratic freedoms gained during the preceding years. This coalition, gathered around the Moscow parliament, hoisted Yeltsin to power. Its origins lie in two different camps. First, in the democratic and nationalist oppositions, rooted in the intelligentsia that pre-existed Gorbachev in the underground “dissident” movement. Secondly, a whole segment of the Gorbachevite faction of the bureaucracy itself.
The former layer of oppositionists, in the period between the Prague Spring and Jaruselski coup in Poland, lost almost all belief in reforming “really existing socialism” and were oriented to western democracy and a market economy as ideals. The latter—the ex-Gorbachevites—became disillusioned with Gorbachev‘s utopian project of “market socialism”, outraged by their leader’s vacillations and compromises with the conservatives and attracted into the service of imperialism as the restorers of capitalism in the USSR. What does the Yeltsin-headed coalition of forces politically represent? Yeltsin, Shevardnadze, and indeed the whole military and political entourage of the Russian President, represent a faction of the bureaucracy that has abandoned the defence of its caste privileges and their source—a degenerate workers’ state—in favour of becoming key members of a new bourgeois ruling class.
When the SCSE made its faltering grab for power they were not opposed by the elemental and inchoate forces of the masses, undifferentiated by class, formless in their opposition. On the contrary, they were confronted with real apparatuses and administrations, bolstered by “democratic mandates” and even possessing rudimentary armed forces. Moreover, utilising glasnost to the full they had eroded the homogeneity of the all-Union administrative and military apparatus and effected cold splits at a number of levels.
The result is now clear to see. What in Eastern and Central Europe took weeks of mass protest and months of wrestling with the nomenklatura to achieve, has been realised in days in the aftermath of the failed coup. The tempo of purgation of the nomenklatura is extremely rapid. Some 80% of the army high command at the level of general or above is or will be displaced. The KGB has effectively been purged of its leadership and ruling collegium, robbed of its 230,000 armed forces and subordinated to the regular army. The Soviet Union cabinet of ministers has been sacked and replacements largely chosen by the Yeltsinite camp. The conservatives headed by Kryuchkov, Pugo and Yazov have been displaced from all leading positions and their followers marginalised as a faction within the shattered and reeling bureaucracy.
The “conservative faction” is under fierce attack from the Yeltsinites and even from Gorbachev. But it still has redoubts and pockets of resistance. It still has large numbers of deputies in the Supreme and republican soviets. In Azerbaijan and some Central Asian republics it still holds power. There the duality of power has a territorial aspect. Unless they are removed in the next months they could launch a limited counter-attack as the restorationists themselves hit a crisis provoked by resistance to their programme.
An unstable partnership
In terms of the balance of forces within the USSR at present the situation is analogous to the first Solidarnosc government headed by Masowiecki but co-habiting with President Jaruselski. In short, there is now a restorationist government in of?ce, in a very strong position because of the coup but still without undivided power over the state apparatus. The regime is headed by an unstable partnership of Yeltsin and Gorbachev. The latter has now only a shadow of his former power. He has ?nally abandoned his attempts to cling to the remnants of “market socialism”. He is a ?rm supporter of a restorationist programme. But his bottom line is a defence of the centralised federal state. This obliges him to rely on the rump of the bureaucracy of the central state apparatus against the confederalists of the republics and the, as yet, undecided Yeltsin. Its inertia gives him what shrinking room he has for Bonapartist independence and manoeuvre.
The measures to deprive the Stalinists of all the levers of economic and political power are an essential stage, a prerequisite to turn to the next stage—the task of rapidly dismantling the instruments of central planning. We can expect the planning ministries, the central bank, the state farm sector to all be purged in the coming months. This process will decide whether Gorbachev retains any use for the restorationists.
The CPSU was the chief mechanism for preserving the Stalinist political dictatorship. Through its 5,000 regional of?ces, its factory cells, its political officers in the KGB and army and through its regulatory intervention into the economy the CPSU was the focal point of bureaucratic rule. But faced with the state of emergency the CPSU crumbled. The reasons lie in the previous two years of internal disintegration of the homogeneity of the party. At a CPSU conference in July 1989 Gorbachev signalled that dissent and proto-factions would not be outlawed. The foundation of the Democratic Platform in January 1990 openly contravened the ban on factions and attracted 100,000 party members; the main planks of programme were to destroy the bureaucratic centralism of the CPSU and replace them with horizontal links and to displace Marxism-Leninism as the ideology of the party. The emergence of the Democratic Platform served to encourage a multiplicity of tendencies within the CPSU.
Paralysis within the CPSU
The July 1990 28th Congress of the CPSU witnessed bitter debate between the factions, the resignation of Yeltsin and the open rebellion of many in the CPSU. The party was being paralysed and subject to defection of entire republican parties, as when the Baltic CPs split. During the course the 1991 the paralysis increased as the CPSU retreated more and more from the running of the economy and splits and defections mounted right up to the eve of the coup, as with Shevardnadze and Yakovlev. On the eve of the coup the CPSU was an increasingly demoralised entity.
If the military and secret police bases of the conservative faction of the bureaucracy crumbled without a serious fight the role, or rather the lack of a role, of the CPSU was truly miserable. The conspirators could make no use of it. Its Central Committee meekly succumbed after the event, but even parts of its press were banned by the decree of the State of Emergency. It tried to gather itself together on Gorbachev’s return to Moscow. For this reason the party has become, with the KGB, the principal target of the Yeltsinite offensive.
Gorbachev tried for two days to shield it. He tried to stick to his perspective of a congress at the end of the year to reform the party, giving it a social democratic programme and purging it of hard liners. But all this was too little and too late. In Moscow and other cities its buildings were seized and sealed, its newspapers suspended and the activities of its cells in the army, and even the KGB banned. Gorbachev was humiliatingly obliged to resign from the party altogether and call for it to dissolve itself. Finally the Supreme Soviet, with a huge “conservative” majority has been obliged to suspend all the operations of the party. The party was the glue that bound the different elements of the bureaucracy together. With its dissolution the bureaucracy will have to face its ?nal end with no coherent centralised leadership.
Revolutionaries share the workers’ hatred for all the real and symbolic representatives of their oppression. We support the closing down of the palatial CPSU offices, private shops and sanatoria, the rooting out of the KGB officers. But we put no trust in Yeltsin or the leadership of the main soviets in the chief towns and cities to carry out the destruction of the Stalinist dictatorship. We seek at every point to involve the masses independently in the process of the destruction of the CPSU dictatorship. We do so because the masses alone have every interest in the most thoroughgoing eradication of their privileges and power. It is the forces of restoration, the forces of “law and order” and “stability” who will seek to keep the destruction of the apparatus of repression within limits.
Yeltsin and Bakhtin will seek to keep the loyal elements of the KGB and seek to turn it into the secret service that can police the working class in the coming years; it will not seek to open up the secrets of the Lubyanka jail to workers’ inspection, and thereby show how far into the Yeltsin camp go the crimes of the Stalinist dictators before they converted to the dogma of the market. The workers must control the process of destruction of the Stalinists through to the end and not let Yeltsin preserve what is useful to him. In parts of the state apparatus (and even in whole republics) the tasks of the political revolution against the bureaucracy still exist and the working class must come to the head of this struggle with its own class organisations.
But the working class gives no support to the bureaucratic banning of the CPSU. All that we ask is that the privileges of the CPSU are brought to an end, that all their members in the factories lose their offices and are put back on the shop or office floor. Their press, their money, their offices must be put at the disposal of the working class organisations that have been bled dry over the years, so that a democratic and lively political culture springs up to replace the monolithism of Stalinism. The forces of restoration must not be allowed to expropriate the property and wealth of the CPSU for its own bourgeois design while bureaucratically banning all activities of the party.
Yeltsin rose to power by spearheading the drive of all the republics to free themselves of the control of the central bureaucratic stranglehold of the Kremlin, the Lubyanka and Gosplan. When these powers are safely shattered then it is likely that Yeltsin and Co will turn back towards a federal project, incorporating those other republics which are valuable and manageable. Given the exceptionally high level of economic interdependence and division between all the republics of the USSR then the erection of national barriers will send the already slumping economy into a complete tail-spin. This would minimise the possibility of stability in the process of capitalist restoration. Already there are clear signs of this change of line in Yeltsin’s threat to raise border questions with seceding republics.
Can and will Gorbachev continue to play a role in the process of restoration? Imperialism at least for the moment thinks it is cost effective to keep him there in a team with Yeltsin. He is a guarantee against “conservative” revival and his support will speed the self-dissolution of the party and the purge of the KGB and the army. In military strategic terms he can help safeguard the nuclear arsenal from falling into the wrong hands. In the international arena he can supervise the surrenders to imperialism in the Middle East, South Africa, in Indo-China and in the Caribbean. The foreign ministry and the task of relations with imperialism remain within Gorbachev’s grasp for the moment.
Internally the role he has set himself is to preserve a federal union with a central government which has some measure of authority in matters of defence, monetary, fiscal and banking policy and which can relate as a unitary power on the world stage. Some, if not all, these objectives are pleasing to imperialism which does not want to see a Yugoslav catastrophe on a grand scale, with borders being forcibly redrawn. In addition there are some signs that after the first flush of Yeltsinmania Washington, London and Bonn would prefer a Yeltsin under some restraint. Yeltsin himself may have continued use for his old rival or at least for his policies. Gorbachev, deprived of his social base within the CPSU, and restored to only a shadow of his former Bonapartist power, represents for the rump of the bureaucracy their best hope to preserve what ever they can of their privileges and power but now brutally made aware that the best it can hope for is to share power, even as a junior partner with the Yeltsin led forces.
Major questions are posed by these events. Was the perspective of political revolution an unreal, a utopian perspective? Was the resistance to the conservative coup in itself counter-revolutionary? Would a successful bureaucratic clamp-down have given the working class a breathing space? The answer to all of these questions is no!
In what sense could be it be said that SCSE “defended the planned property relations”? Only in this: that it resisted their abolition to the extent that they were the “host” off which it was parasitic. However, this massive social parasite was the principal cause of the sickness unto death of the bureaucratic centrally planned economy, of the consequent disillusion of the masses in it.
Through its totalitarian dictatorship the Stalinists were also an absolute bloc on the self-activity and self-consciousness of the proletariat and its ability to crystalise a new vanguard, which alone could have not merely preserved but renewed the “gains of October”. The full scale of this parasitism is only now likely to be revealed, but reports that after the coup the party’s business manager was trying to send £500 billion worth of assets out of the USSR indicates that we are not dealing with minor perks, but with a vast collective and individual plunder of the social product of the workers’ state. No wonder these people never could and never did put themselves at the head of the working class resistance to restoration.
The impending catastrophe and how to combat it
A prolonged pre-revolutionary situation has gripped the USSR at least since 1988. Despite the accumulated discredit that Stalinism’s brutal repression of the proletariat, and its parasitism and mismanagement of the planned economy, brought to the very idea of a workers’ state it would have been possible to struggle within the new strike committees and the trade unions for class independence and for a workers’ government with a programme of a democratically drawn up emergency plan as a solution to the economic crisis.
As long as the bureaucracy survives with any remaining hold on power and as long as there exist the decisive elements of the “gains of October” our programme must remain that of political revolution. We cannot abandon it because of the low level of class consciousness of the masses. The loss of the gains of October would be a historic defeat for the world working class. It would strengthen imperialism against all its enemies politically, economically and militarily. The Soviet bureaucracy for its own counter-revolutionary reasons gave material aid to the other workers’ states, to semi-colonial countries and to Stalinist or petit bourgeois nationalist movements against imperialism. These workers’ states and semi-colonies will now be prostrate before imperialism. Already reactionary pro-imperialist regional peace treaties are in discussion in South Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia. If the Soviet Union collapses then the crises of the Cuban, Vietnamese, Cambodian and North Korean regimes will be brought forward.
Though it may take longer the fate of the Chinese workers’ state is also called into question. The collapse of the Stalinist parties world-wide is politically no loss but in the context of a rightward moving social democracy and the acute crisis of revolutionary leadership, it will further undermine the elementary class identi?cation of the worlds’ labour movements. In the short term the bourgeoisie and its agents will use the collapse to proclaim the utopianism of the socialist project and Marxism itself. Thus the struggle for political revolution was not an optional extra, to be posed only if the masses were already sympathetic to it. It was an objective necessity to avoid a strategic defeat for the Soviet and the world working class.
The seeming disinterest of the Soviet masses in the social gains they have inherited from 1917 is primarily and principally the result of the Stalinist dictatorship. No continuation of it could conceivably aid revolutionaries in their central task of clearing the consciousness of the proletarian vanguard through democratic debate and active involvement in struggle so that they discover who their real allies and their real enemies are. No bloc with the Stalinist clamp-down could have done any thing but put a river of blood between revolutionaries and the working masses and oppressed nationalities. Thus we had to stand with and indeed take the front ranks in the fight to stop the coup. But at the same time revolutionaries have to oppose Yeltsin’s seizure and consolidation of power.
The fact that the first fruits of this present crisis is the installation of a counter-revolutionary government with mass support and considerable democratic illusions means that bringing the masses to oppose Yeltsin will not be swift or easy. Yeltsin is intent on resolving the instability of the post-coup revolutionary situation into a de?nitive victory for counter-revolution. He wishes to resolve the remaining duality of power with the remaining bureaucracy and create a regime with “democratic credentials”, possibly by plebiscitary, means, possibly by means of parliamentary elections. Such a regime would have a mandate to use the harshest police and military means to enforce its draconian economic measures to clear out all the bodies still stuffed with CPSU members.
The Soviet workers must seek to open a real duality of power between its own class organisations and both Yeltsin and Gorbachev, or for that matter the likes of Landsbergis and Gamsakhurdia. None of these people seek to bring democracy to the workers, collective farmers or the urban intelligentsia. Once installed in power and seeking to crystalise a new class of exploiters even full and consistent bourgeois democratic rights for the masses will become intolerable. Yeltsin’s eagerness to ban parties and newspapers, Gamsakhurdia’s repression of all nationalist opposition to himself indicates just what these democrats are made of.
The working class must launch an immediate struggle to defend its own democratic rights. But these democratic rights must not stop short—as they do in all capitalist countries—at the gate of the factory, the office, the school or the hospital. These institutions were not built by capital but by the intelligence and the sweat of three generations of Soviet workers. They must not be handed over to assorted foreign banks and multinationals, Soviet “mafiosi” and speculators let alone by Yeltsinite ex-bureaucrats.
The struggle for workers’ democracy must mean the organisations of the proletariat fighting for its independent class economic interests in the face of the economic crisis and against Yeltsin’s project of the rapid restoration of capitalism. Secondly, it must, in the course of such struggles, reforge its own organisations, politically and organisationally independent of the state structures of the USSR, the republican governments and the corrupting clutches of the AFL-CIO the TUC or the DGB, and countless assorted imperialist labour agencies.
The tasks of the Soviet workers are:
• to complete for themselves the most and radical and thorough smashing of bureaucratic power while resisting the consolidation of power by the restorationists.
• For workers’ action to drive out the party and KGB spies in the workplace, to abolish all party privileges, putting party property under the control of the factory committees.
• For workers’ inspection of all CPSU property and files and the nationalisation of all assets accumulated by it at the expense of the workers’ state. The handing over of all private sanatoria, party dachas,. to independent workers’ organisations and factory committees.
• Public trials by workers’ juries alone of the plotters and organisers of the attempted clamp-down. At the same time we must oppose any witch-hunt of the CPSU rank and file members by the new authorities. No mass sackings of party members against whom no charges of anti-working class actions can be proved. Abolish the death penalty. No bans on political parties including the CPSU except for fascist parties like Pamyat
• An immediate end to Gorbachev’s restrictions on strikes. Demand that Yeltsin and the so-called democrats who dominate the republican and city soviets repeal all restrictions on the right to strike to demonstrate to assemble.
• For workers’ control of the mass media and against all state censorship whether by the Stalinist bureaucrats or the Yeltsinites.
• The workers of the USSR need no new Tsars, Stalin’s or capitalist dictators either. Down with Bonapartism in all its forms! Build and arm independent workers’ organisations, fight for workers’/soldiers’ control of the factories/army. Abolish all the special powers of the Soviet and republican presidencies. Abolish all special armed forces in every republic.
• End Gorbachev and Yeltsin’s capitulations and concessions to world imperialism. Continue and increase aid without strings to all states and movements in conflict with imperialism and its agents. Military and economic support for Cuba and Vietnam and the other bureaucratically degenerate workers’ states. Support for any struggles by their workers to oust their bureaucrats including aid for a political revolution in China.
• Defend the remains of the gains of the October Revolution; defend state ownership of all large scale enterprises by putting them under workers’ management; smaller economic units and those in the production and distribution of consumer goods that wish to should be transformed into worker co-operatives. All collective farms should be transformed into genuine democratic co-operatives. Drive the parasitic party bureaucrats out of the collective farm system. Transform the fake co-operatives formed in the Gorbachev period into genuine democratic bodies of producers and consumers. Expropriate the racketeers. Resist privatisation.
• Defend free and universal provision of housing, education, crèches and care for the elderly and disabled under the control of the users and local workers’ representatives; massively improve the quality of these services out of the expropriated wealth of the party and bureaucratic apparatus.
• Defend free abortion on demand; massively expand the availability of contraception; defend women’s jobs; no forced return to the home as a result of the market.
• An emergency plan to stop the impending economic catastrophe. Immediate election of committees in every factory, office, shop, and collective farm and on the railways and in the haulage enterprises to draw up inventories of produce in all state, private and party storage. For town, city and regional councils of delegates from these committees to issue binding orders. The drawing up of an emergency plan for the winter at every level and its co-ordination by a union wide council of workers’ and collective farmers’ delegates. Only the workers and farmers can ensure that a speedy and equal distribution of food, fuel and clothing takes place.
• For an armed workers and collective farmers’ militia to enforce the emergency plan against the bureaucrats, the mafia, and all horders and speculators. Only such a militia can defend national minorities against pogromists, fascists and those who wish to make facts by changing borders against the will of their populations.
• For the immediate right to secession of all republics wishing to do so. Force the central government to recognise all “seceded” states and withdraw all SAF troops at once. Disband the special forces throughout the Union. For the right of self-determination of all oppressed nationalities within each of the republics, including autonomy or separation. For independent workers’ council states in all the seceding republics.
• At the same time workers and their organisations throughout the USSR should render fraternal aid to workers in any state resisting privatisations and the attacks of the nationalist and restorationist governments. For workers’ council states in every republic. For a voluntary federation of such states.
• Down with the undemocratic command planning of the bureaucrats in Gosplan, in the ministries, in the foreign trade bodies and in the state bank, including a thoroughgoing purge of the corrupt authoritarian and inefficient bureaucrats.
• No to the dissolution of the central planning bodies in favour of the economic institutions of the market and the capitalist state. Close the stock exchanges. For workers’ inspection and control, and the transformation and restructuring of Gosplan into organs of democratic workers’ planning.
• The creation in every town and city of councils of delegates elected in the workplaces and instantly recallable to co-ordinate both emergency economic planning and to organise the struggle against the attacks on all economic and social gains of the workers and collective farmers.
• As long as these gains survive the strategic task facing the working class remains the proletarian political revolution. For the creation of a democratic workers’ state as an instrument of socialist construction and the international revolution against capitalism and imperialism. With the restorationists now in power in many republics and in the central institutions a fierce revolutionary struggle will be needed to carry this out. Essential as workers’ councils and truly independent and democratic trade unions are to this struggle they cannot win without a centralised organisation of the best worker cadres from every struggle, of the most self-sacri?cing intellectuals who reject capitalist exploitation and world imperialism. This can be nothing else than a revolutionary workers’ party, an anti-bureaucratic and anti-capitalist combat force based on the principles of Lenin and Trotsky.