Wed Nov 30, 2022
November 30, 2022

Assessing the History of the Former USSR

9 December 2021
A special edition published originally in Spanish by the IWL-FI here.
The debates amongst international fighters in the working class, particularly about how to confront the crisis of capitalism, are many. After almost two years living with a global pandemic that is far from being under control, we see, once again, that those who suffer the greatest consequences during global crises will continue to be the poorest countries and the international working class.
We are confronted with the possibility of ecological collapse, where life on earth is under threat. This is a product of anarchical capitalist production that maintains a destructive relationship with the environment. On top of this, we are experiencing rampant social inequality, where a few magnates control almost all the riches while the vast majority of people are condemned to inadequate sanitation and precarious labor conditions.
In response to the permanent crises of the capitalist system we see hundreds in struggle: against racism in the United States; against machismo, with thousands of women mobilizing in the streets; against the imperialist looting of resources, and for the defense of the environment. All over the world, working-class people are engaged in strikes, and we also see armed resistance and revolutions that have overthrown dictatorships. But we are far from consolidating a clear alternative to capitalism. The majority of activism describes itself as anti-capitalist, rejecting free trade agreements and financiers, and demanding the end to the endless exploitation of nature. We haven’t achieved the end of capitalism and in the last thirty years economic, social, and political problems have only worsened.
At the IWL we are aware that it isn’t enough just to struggle. We must construct a revolutionary and socialist program opposed to the capitalist system. This project must destroy capitalism from the roots and be able to build a society where the economy and politics are at the service of satisfying the needs of the human species without destroying the natural world. But, to advance this project we believe we must question the invincibility of capitalism.
Social activism and the militant left must study past struggles and revolutions, the triumphs as well as the failures. This examination reveals valuable lessons to better understand the present, not repeat the same errors, and to be stronger in the fight against capitalism. It is very important to study how the societies functioned that tried to build alternative models to capitalism, such as the process that began with the Russian Revolution in 1917. This involves studying how processes of revolution emerged, their institutions, economic bases, and the reasons why they failed.
We want to invite those currently engaged in the struggle to learn, from a Marxist lens, in other words, totally critical of the official history, the history of the rise, degeneration, and fall of the USSR and of the former workers’ states. Without this study, without making this historical balance sheet of the revolution, we are convinced that it will not be possible to face the challenges of new socialist revolutions.
The last three decades have been marked by systematic propaganda coming from states, transnational media, and bourgeois political parties repeating that socialism is not viable and that the “failure” of the USSR proves it. One of the most common fallacies in this campaign is to repeat that Stalin and the bureaucracy that governed the USSR from 1924 was a continuation of the program of Marx, Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, and Trotsky. Millions of pages and hours of video have been spent arguing that the lack of democracy in the former workers’ states was an inevitable consequence of communist doctrine. They also argue that, between 1988 and 1991, the masses in these states flooded the streets to demand the “end to communism” and the return to capitalism.
This special edition presents to the readers a selection of texts written to discuss the thirtieth anniversary of the dissolution of the USSR, as well as videos and archival materials, where we would like to review, with precision, what happened during the rise and fall of the former USSR and explain how and why it degenerated.
Through the texts that will be published in the next thirty days, we will try to explain the Perestroika project and how the restoration of capitalism happened through the Stalinist bureaucracy way before the masses began to mobilize against the misery to which they had been brought. From there, we will make a detailed explanation of what the Stalinist bureaucracy was, how it emerged and how it transformed the democratic workers’ regime that had existed until the death of Lenin.
We will investigate the implications of socialism in one country, the major rupture Stalin and his entourage implemented, and we will see all the repercussions this had for revolutionary processes and for the Second World War.
We will explain why, in the first years of the USSR, a democratic workers’ regime existed, where important social and democratic conquests were achieved; we will show how until 1924 the Workers’ State was at the service of international revolution, giving priority to the construction of the Third International, that would later be liquidated by the Stalinist bureaucracy.
On the other hand, it is important to show the mass resistance to this bureaucracy. To this end we will analyze the processes of anti-bureaucratic revolution in the countries within the Soviet orbit: Eastern Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. We will also explain he revolutionary processes that spread throughout Eastern Europe towards the end of the 1980s and that we interpret as an essentially progressive phenomenon, at odds with much of the left in this regard, particularly with current communist parties.
Finally, we will suggest some conclusions to help in this continued debate. For example, what are the programs of current communist parties that have always stood by the former USSR and the actions of the bureaucracy. We will make characterizations of contemporary China, Cuba, and Putin’s current government in Russia.
Finally, we will debate whether the degeneration of the USSR was a product of Stalinist or Marxism. This is fundamental to retake the debate about the supposed superiority of capitalism over socialism and, above all, to respond to the question of whether it is viable to continue to fight for socialism.
Once again, please join us in this review of the history of the former USSR and workers’ states.
Translated from Spanish to English by Dolores Underwood

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