Sun Apr 21, 2024
April 21, 2024

Why Stalinism Collapsed

Bill Hunter – 1993. Originally published @ Socialist Voice #26.

Gorbachev, who became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, began Perestroika and Glasnost, proclaimed as “restructuring” and “openness”, and introduced profound changes in economic practice, internal affairs and international relations. The changes were meant to defend the bureaucracy and its privileges in an increasingly desperate economic situation. Immediately there were forces unleashed which revealed that the bureaucracy had become a restorationist elite.
It was no longer possible – in fact it had not been possible for a very long time – to talk, as Trotsky did before the war, about the three wings of the bureaucracy: the right including fascists, the left, and the centre.
In the last two or three decades, this bureaucracy, as a whole, has been compelled to link the Soviet economy more closely with world imperialist relations, that meant increasing domination of the world market and imperialist finance.
If you want to understand what happened in Russia in the eighties, you have to build on Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed, the documents of the Left Opposition and the Transitional Programme. The Transitional Programme declares: “either the bureaucracy, becoming ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the workers’ state, will overthrow the new forms of property and plunge the country back to capitalism; or the working class will crush the bureaucracy and open the way to Socialism.”
Have not these been the alternatives which are the framework for understanding the Soviet Union in the 1980s?
This is something that we found early agreement with in the 1982 International Workers League Thesis which pointed out the bureaucracy was leading Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to semi-colonisation. There were increasingly dominating connections of imperialism with the Soviet Union through, among other things, the IMF and the World Bank.
As Elizabeth (IWL comrade who went to Poland from Argentina, in the early 1990s) showed when she touched on this history of Poland. The government of Walesa as it began only sharpened up the process which had already been going on under Giereck. We have to say that the process towards capitalist restoration began before the uprisings of 1989/90 and we can see those processes going on in China, Vietnam and Cuba.
This is the other side of the equation in the Transitional Programme: either the working class smashes the bureaucracy or the bureaucracy develops into the arms of imperialism.
The working class has only begun to develop their independent organised class strength.
But over all this period before and after 1989/90, the restorationists and imperialists have not been able to develop a stable capitalist class because of the explicit, as well as the potential, resistance of the working class.
The destruction of all the conquests of the Russian Revolution has yet to be decided in struggle. It is this conflicting equation posed in the Transitional Programme which has been becoming more and more decisive, ever since the 1970s.
The inability of the working class to take the lead meant that a great section of the bureaucracy was able to adjust itself and even join the forces of “democracy”.
That does not mean that they were able to carry out their plans to preserve their privileges on a capitalist basis.
The same question of struggle between the forces of the working class and the forces of restoration exist. The issue is not decided. The question is of developing a programme and assisting the working class in their independent class struggle – on workers’ control, in defence of the social conquests, against privatisation and so on.
Stalinism or Internationalism
One cannot build an International unless you start with the contribution that Trotskyism has made as a consistent force – in fact the only force – which has fought and organised for proletarian internationalism in the last seventy years.
The outstanding thing about the Trotskyist movement and Trotsky is that they alone built on the basis of internationalism.
They continued as they began, for Bolshevik internationalism and the Permanent Revolution against Socialism in One Country.
The ‘left’ movement
The whole of what is called the ‘left’ movement – that is to say the people in the world socialist movement who have considered themselves to the left of Stalinism or reformism – have been shaken by the developments in imperialism and the break-up of Stalinism at the end of the 1980’s. Not only them, but also the Trotskyist movement.
The collapse of the Soviet Union exploded, for example, a theory which was taken as a certainty by ‘lefts’ and Stalinists and which penetrated insidiously into the Trotskyist ranks, principally the Mandelists.
It was the theory that the development of objective circumstances and the relationship of forces would inevitably mean that China and the Soviet Union, with all their blemishes, would evolve to an equal level with the capitalist powers and then overtake them.
These people based most of their political thinking on this, whether or not they indulged in anti-Stalinist criticism. Despite denunciation of Stalinism they believed deep down that hope for the future only lay in its evolution.
The collapse of Stalinism brought a crisis in the whole of this ‘left’ and a paralysed confusion in some sections of Trotskyism, laying them open to the bourgeois ideological offensive against Marxism.
All the movements that call themselves Trotskyist have gone through a crisis in the last decade reflecting the crises of Imperialism and Stalinism and the end of the post-war stage of history.
The split in the Militant was not just due to their empirical turns to work outside the Labour Party, but was very much connected with international events and an inadequacy of old orientations on Stalinism. A document of the Militant majority on the differences they had declares that “Marxists” had thought there could not be a return of capitalist relations in the Soviet Union.
It is the old conclusion from objectivist thinking that it would be as impossible for the Soviet Union to go back to capitalism as it is for the baby to go back into the womb.
Permanent Revolution
The programme of the Permanent Revolution is one pillar that is an absolute for building the International movement of the future.
The Permanent Revolution is not a statement of revolution everywhere. It is a strategical guide for our epoch when only under the leadership of the proletariat can the bourgeois democratic revolution be carried through and made permanent, and this proletarian revolution can only be made permanent by becoming part of a world revolution.
That is not to say that on the road towards building the Fourth International we will not make alliances with people who perhaps are not clear or who are unsure about the permanent evolution but who want a revolutionary international.
We enter into the struggle for that International together, because we seek to prove that our position on this and traditions built on it, give us the firmest and best guide in taking the working class to the resolution of its problems.
However, we learn from our intervention and we learn from the people we intervene with. We learn the best way to struggle for our principles.
The Transitional Programme is a strategical guide for taking the working class to power and bridging the gap between a lack of proletarian consciousness and the task posed by objective conditions. The bridge is not a propaganda bridge but a bridge of struggle.
This is what the turmoil and suffering in the 1980s and 1990s tells us. This is what the collapse of Stalinism and the crisis in all the former colonial countries shows us. Rulers will not lead a successful democratic revolution, only the working class in the struggle for the October Revolution can lead and complete it.

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