GORBACHEVISM AND THE PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION
Draft Resolution on
the Soviet Union
Presented by the Comrades Who Signed the "Appeal for the Establishment of a Left Tendency in the Fourth International for the XIII World Congress"
The primary political criterion for us is not the transformation of property relations in this or another area, however important these may be in themselves, but rather the change in the consciousness and organization of the world proletariat, the raising of their capacity for defending former conquests and accomplishing new ones. From this one, and the only decisive standpoint, the politics of Moscow, taken as a whole, completely retains its reactionary character and remains the chief obstacle on the road to the world revolution...
We must formulate our slogans in such a way that the workers see clearly just what we are defending in the USSR (state property and planned economy), and against whom we are conducting a ruthless struggle (the parasitic bureaucracy and its Comintern). We must not lose sight for a single moment of the fact that the question of overthrowing the Soviet bureaucracy is for us subordinate to the question of preserving state property in the means of production in the USSR; that the question of preserving state property in the means of production in the USSR is subordinate for us to the question of the world proletarian revolution. (Trotsky, "The USSR in War," 25 September 1939, from In Defense of Marxism [the two quoted passages are from the sections titled "The Question of Occupied Territories" and "Conclusions"])
1. Gorbachev and the October Revolution
Trotskyists must assess the Gorbachev policies from two standpoints: on the one hand, from the standpoint of the defense of the historically progressive heritage of the October Revolution and, on the other hand, from the standpoint of Trotsky's "primary political criterion," the struggle to build the revolutionary leadership of the working class over against all counterrevolutionary leaderships, obviously including the Stalinists.
We must ask two essential questions. What is the impact of the Gorbachev policies on the relative strength of collectivized property as a fact and force in the world objectively counterposed to the anarchy of capitalist production? What is the impact of the Gorbachev policies on the capacity of the international working class to defend its historic gains and move forward to the socialist revolution? Both questions are of fundamental importance to revolutionary socialists, but the latter is the more important.
Gorbachev and his supporters insist that the only solution to the stagnation and corruption of command economy and Stalinist rule is the introduction into the Soviet economic and political system of large-scale elements of capitalist economy and bourgeois democracy. Within a period of months, the old-style Stalinist governments of the countries of Eastern Europe previously dominated by the Soviet Union have collapsed and been replaced by governments in most cases committed to capitalist restoration or at least echoing Gorbachev's own gospel of the compatibility of "market economy" with "socialism." The summer of 1990 witnessed Gorbachev's unseemly eagerness to accept the reunification of Germany on a capitalist basis. And as 1991 began, the Soviet Union, deeply committed to a policy of military retrenchment, pathetically maintained its alliance with an imperialism seizing on Soviet weakness to reassert its oppressive power with the threat of the wholesale slaughter of the people of Iraq.
In the face of such events, Trotskyists must pose again the question of the October Revolution, as past achievement and as future perspective. What is the relationship of the Gorbachev policies to the gains of October, to the working class's past conquests? And what is the relationship of the Gorbachev policies to the capacity of the working class "for defending former conquests and accomplishing new ones"?
2. Our Primary Political Criterion
Gorbachevism has been characterized by the following policies:
1) the economic policies termed perestroika ("reconstruction") by Gorbachev, centered on the introduction of certain capitalist or semicapitalist economic measures in an attempt to foster intensive economic growth in a Soviet economy that has been essentially stagnant through the 1980s;
2) the political policies called glasnost ("openness") by the Gorbachevites, which have consisted essentially of efforts to adapt certain measures of bourgeois parliamentary democracy to the bureaucratic political system of the Soviet Union in order to build support for and minimize resistance to the perestroika project among the intelligentsia and the working masses;
3) on the one hand, the Gorbachevites' efforts at achieving a new Union treaty, combining limited measures of political and economic decentralization with the maintenance of centralized control over defense, foreign policy, and certain fundamental economic questions, including essential natural resources -- and, on the other hand, the Gorbachevites' increasingly hostile reactions to the various nationalist movements that have developed in response to the openings created by Gorbachev's initiatives;
4) the Gorbachev foreign policy of retrenchment, aimed at achieving substantial reductions in the military expenditures of the Soviet state and, to some extent, obtaining economic and technical assistance from the imperialists.
In assessing the Gorbachev policies we insist on the correctness of Trotsky's criteria and the relative priorities he places on these criteria. In reality, this places us in opposition to all the leadership trends in our international organization that have published documents on the Soviet Union in the discussion period prior to the XIII World Congress. In arguing against these positions the urgent importance of a return to fundamentals, we are not defending some dogma but rather are reminding comrades that only such an assessment is fully consistent with both a scientific analysis of (as opposed to wishful thinking about) the Soviet Union and a revolutionary intervention in (as opposed to a mere intellectual commentary on) the crisis of Soviet and world Stalinism. We are fighting to make it possible for Trotskyism to confront decisive new developments without illusions and with clear and consistent revolutionary policies.
From Trotsky's "one, and the only decisive standpoint," the consciousness and organization of the international working class, Trotskyists must recognize that the consequences of the Gorbachev policies, taken as a whole, have been extremely negative. Overall, the Gorbachev policies have shifted the balance of forces in the world in favor of capitalism and against socialist revolution by building illusions in both capitalist economy and bourgeois democracy around the world while weakening the self-confidence, the tendencies toward independent political action and organization, and the socialist consciousness of the international working class.
These negative consequences of Gorbachevism, from the standpoint of the world socialist revolution, far outweigh any positive consequences from the destabilizing tendencies of the Gorbachev policies, in the Soviet Union itself and internationally. This is true for the simple reason that only a politically conscious working class led by a world party of socialist revolution -- that is, the Fourth International -- could take decisive advantage of the opportunities presented by the destabilization, whether in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, or anywhere else.
3. The Real Dangers of the Gorbachev Policies
The Fourth International must intervene in the crisis of the Soviet Union with a clear understanding of the real dangers presented by the Gorbachev policies and a clear programmatic alternative to them.
Our understanding of the dangers of Gorbachevism derives from our recognition that the October Revolution was the decisive turning point of modern history. With the victory of the Russian workers in 1917, two factors entered human history that have transformed all fundamental social, economic, and political development.
First, the establishment of a collectivized economy and the beginning of the transformation of a capitalist into a socialist economy, made real for the first time the Marxist perspective of the creation of a communist mode of production on an advanced technological basis -- an inspiration to workers in struggle everywhere and a monumental new source of dread for the capitalists. Second, the proletarian political victory in a country as important and as backward as Russia gave to the class struggle around the world a new reference point: since here the workers won, workers around the world had a new basis for self-confidence and a model of successful proletarian revolution to learn from, while the bourgeoisie had qualitatively greater reasons for fear.
That the Stalinist counterrevolution was forced to preserve, consolidate, and even to some extent develop the collectivized economy created by the October Revolution -- even though in a bureaucratically deformed way -- has meant that these two factors have continued to shape history in decisive ways, despite Stalinist betrayals and the continued global dominance of the capitalist mode of production.
Since World War II, the existence of the noncapitalist Soviet Union as the second most powerful nation in the world has constantly inhibited the capacity of imperialism to enforce its will on the neocolonial world and the other workers' states. This has been true despite the fact that the Soviet bureaucracy's counterrevolutionary foreign policy has not been aimed at the revolutionary overthrow of the imperialist system but at its preservation on terms relatively favorable to the national-bureaucratic interests of the Soviet elite.
The Gorbachev policy has taken the counterrevolutionary implications of Stalinist nationalism ("building socialism in one country") one terrible step further.
In the name of reducing the Soviet military budget to facilitate investment in the crisis-ridden civilian economy (undoubtedly with the long-range aim of facilitating a return to expansion of the Soviet military on a stronger overall economic basis), the Soviet Union has pulled back from even the limited support it provided to "national-liberation" movements and relatively aggressive bourgeois-nationalist neocolonial regimes. More than that, from a previous policy of minimizing the anti-imperialist dynamics of any struggles it supported, the Soviet Union under Gorbachev has moved to a policy of actively betraying these struggles and pressuring its clients into making massive concessions to the bourgeois and imperialist forces opposing them.
It is enough to mention the treacherous role of the Soviet Union in Nicaragua and South Africa to grasp the willingness of Gorbachev to aid imperialism in regaining lost ground and propping up even the most reactionary and racist bourgeois regimes against internal threats. Nor has the slightest heartbeat of loyalty to collectivized property conditioned Gorbachev's policies toward Eastern Europe nor his eager embrace of the capitalist reunification of Germany.
But these betrayals have merely foreshadowed the collaboration of Gorbachev with imperialism's entire project of reestablishing its right to rule the world through the military devastation of the Iraqi people.
To the lying rhetoric of democracy and peace shared by Gorbachev and the imperialists, Trotskyists must counterpose recognition of the reality of the new period of unleashed imperialist oppression and war. To the "new world order" of global class collaboration promised so ominously by the imperialists and the Gorbachevites, Trotskyists must counterpose the perspective of proletarian internationalism and world socialist revolution.
Notwithstanding the deformities and limitations of bureaucratic rule, the survival of the regime of collectivized property created by the October Revolution in the Soviet Union and its spread to the countries of Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Indochina, and Cuba have continued to demonstrate the viability of planned economy as a realizable alternative to capitalist anarchy and inequality. In other words, despite the counterrevolutionary politics and crimes of Stalinism, the survival and spread of the regime of collectivized property have continued to give testimony to the power of the working class to transform history, to the capacity of the international proletariat to overthrow capitalism and create a global economy and society in its own image, as a transition to a society of fundamental equality in which there are no classes. Trotskyism is the one political trend that sums up consistently the understanding that the working class -- and only the working class -- can transform history in a progressive direction and that defends the lessons of the October Revolution -- and its betrayal -- as the only consistent strategy for achieving that transformation.
Here we see the most important and the most negative result of the Gorbachev policies. The stigmatizing of planned economy and the fetishizing of market relations as the solution to the economic problems of the Soviet Union have opened the way for Stalinist, social-democratic, and other workers' leaderships around the world to declare the failure of socialism. The embrace of bourgeois-democratic measures and rhetoric by Gorbachev as well as the new leaderships in Eastern Europe has turned the crisis of Stalinism not into a victory for workers' democracy but an international selling point for illusions in bourgeois democracy. Gorbachevism has neatly combined with the overall relative stabilization of the world capitalist system during the 1980s in tending to disorient workers, to deny the reality of the revolutionary dynamic in their struggles, to suggest that there is, in actuality, no distinctively proletarian interest, program, or property form counterposed to capitalism -- no historic aim of workers' struggles at all, other than, at best, certain gradual small improvements in conditions.
It is this, the undermining of "the consciousness and organization of the world proletariat," the weakening of workers' "capacity for defending former conquests and accomplishing new ones," that is the greatest and the truly historic crime of Gorbachev.
We must approach our intervention in the crisis of the Soviet Union in the first place from the standpoint of this international crime of Gorbachev: the strengthening of the forces of capitalism and imperialism and the weakening of the forces of collectivized property and the working class on a global scale.
The question of the immediacy of a threat of the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union -- or even in Eastern Europe -- as important as that question is, is not the central question. For even if, as seems to us clearly the case, the actual restoration of capitalism is not an immediate danger in the Soviet Union, this is no cause for comfort. The historic strengthening of private property relations and the historic weakening of collectivized property and proletarian consciousness that the Gorbachev policies have produced still make the defense of collectivized property an urgent task.
It is urgent for Trotskyists to defend collectivized property now for two central reasons.
First, the procapitalist forces have been growing rapidly in the Soviet Union, in particular in the intelligentsia and in the bureaucracy itself, and becoming increasingly aggressive. Gorbachev's recent shift away from these forces in the direction of the old-style Stalinists does not mean the procapitalist trends have been politically defeated, since neither Gorbachev nor the "hard-liners" have any organic perspective to counterpose to the perspective of the procapitalist elements. Even if -- as is surely likely -- perestroika is dead for the next period, the procapitalist elements have now become a deeply rooted part of Soviet political life and the only sector of the established political leadership fighting for a comprehensive program of any kind. Trotskyists must begin now to counterpose the program of workers' democracy, democratically controlled central planning, and political revolution to the bourgeois-liberals' and social democrats' program of bourgeois democracy and restoration of capitalism.
Second, it is urgent for Trotskyists to begin now the struggle to rebuild the consciousness and will to fight of the working class -- in the Soviet Union and around the world. For if the Soviet workers prove unwilling and unable to defend collectivized property in the Soviet Union, a setback will be suffered by the international working class that will raise to a new high point the danger of an unfavorable outcome to the inevitable posing of the historic alternatives of socialism or barbarism. There would be good reason to fear that the war now washing the people of Iraq in blood is the first step on the road to a new age of barbarism.
4. The Trotskyist Programmatic Perspective
The recognition of this danger is, however, no reason for pessimism. It is a reason to move swiftly in developing our intervention into the crisis of Stalinism in the Soviet Union, with policies determined by our overall method -- the method of the Transitional Program -- and the particular difficulties of the unfavorable situation we face. We have no reason to despair, as long as we understand that our aim now is to reach the vanguard and as long as we have a clear programmatic alternative, not only to the policies of Gorbachev but also to the policies of both his procapitalist and "hard-line" Stalinist critics.
For our intervention to be effective, it must be conscious and systematic. This requires an initial programmatic perspective, expressing the essentials of our method as applied to the crisis of the Soviet Union, inevitably relatively general and schematic at the outset, which will have to be elaborated, concretized, and revised as the living struggle develops.
1. We condemn Gorbachev's collaboration with the imperialist war against Iraq. No to the "new world order" of class collaboration with imperialist oppression and war. For proletarian internationalism and world socialist revolution.
2. Reverse the disorientation and demoralization of the international workers' movement. Reject the perspective of the "failure of socialism," of the market as antidote to bureaucratic rule and command economy, of "market socialism" and "mixed economy." Against the spreading of illusions in bourgeois democracy, from "democratic" austerity in Eastern Europe to "democratic" war in the Middle East. For the perspective of proletarian revolution in every country to establish workers' democracy and a democratically planned economy.
3. Not glasnost but workers' democracy. Not Stalinist parliamentarism but real soviet power. Not bureaucratic reform but proletarian political revolution.
4. Not perestroika but the development of centrally planned economy under the democratic control of the working masses. Defend collectivized property in the means of production against all measures of privatization, decentralization, and ties with foreign capital that weaken the system of collectivized property, intensify inequalities, and promote the atomization of social and political life. Reject the petty-bourgeois utopianism of "self-management" schemes.
5. For a program of transitional demands for the struggle to resolve the Soviet economic and political crisis. For workers' control of food distribution, the fight against hoarding, and any changes in prices.
No to all measures that tend to create a reserve army of the unemployed in the Soviet Union. No to the privatization of any large-scale industrial or agricultural enterprises or social services. No to all attacks on the working and living conditions of workers, poor farmers, poor shopkeepers, rank-and-file soldiers, the elderly, and student and nonstudent youth.
For the full freedom of independent trade unions and factory committees. For democratically organized cooperatives of working-class, peasant, and poor consumers to regulate the quality and prices of products. For worker-patient-community control of health care and worker-student-community control of education. For independent workers' militias to defend workers' struggles at workplaces and in the neighborhoods.
For a nationwide campaign of strikes and workplace occupations against all measures of austerity aimed at resolving the economic crisis at the expense of the workers and poor farmers. For mass action against bureaucratic privilege, corruption, and deceit.
6. For the full legal, political, and economic equality of women, national and ethnic minorities, and lesbians and gay men. For the unlimited right to abortion and birth control for all women in all republics and the control of healthcare facilities providing these services by women patients and health workers.
For independent mass organizations of women, ethnic minorities, lesbians and gay men, and other specially oppressed groups, linked to the independent workers' organizations, to fight sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, Great Russian chauvinism, antigay bigotry, and all the other forms of prejudice and discrimination that infect Soviet society.
For mass action against the crimes of Stalinist bigotry and Great Russian chauvinism and against all the fascist flowerings of the glasnost era.
For an organization of militant socialist youth independent of all wings of the bureaucracy.
7. Neither Landsbergis nor Gorbachev. For the right to secede on a soviet and socialist basis of Lithuania and the other nations of the Soviet Union oppressed by Great Russian chauvinism. Down with all schemes for the restoration of capitalism under the cloak of national independence. Down with every defense of national oppression in the guise of defending socialism. For the full legal, political, and economic equality of all the peoples of the Soviet Union. For the right of the poorest republics to veto any Union economic plan that does not attack the fundamental inequalities among the republics.
8. No political support to the procapitalist "reformers," "radical reformers," "social democrats," and other political trends, inside and outside the bureaucracy, pressing for the weakening of collectivized property and planned economy today in order to prepare for the restoration of capitalism tomorrow.
No political support to the KGB "socialists," the Ligachevs and Alksnises and their allies throughout the Soviet bureaucracy, who oppose capitalist restoration on behalf of the bureaucracy's rights of "socialist" parasitism.
No political support to the Gorbachev clique, its endless maneuvers and vacillations, its technocratic cynicism, its reduction of all questions to bureaucratic pragmatism, its wretched mouthing of bourgeois-liberal cliches, its open renunciation of class struggle and internationalism, its stinking deals with imperialist power and money.
For independent socialist workers' parties and independent working-class action in defense of the gains of the October Revolution.
9. Against "socialist" stagism (first, the restoration of capitalism and bourgeois democracy; then a new stage of socialist revolution), centrist confusion, "soviet" economism and spontaneism. Only a Soviet working class conscious of its tasks can defend collectivized property and wage the struggles that will lead to the victory of the political revolution to overthrow the Stalinist hangmen of October.
For the conscious intervention of a Trotskyist party aimed at winning the vanguard of the Soviet masses to the program and banner of the world party of socialist revolution.
10. For new soviets of the working masses and rank-and-file soldiers, open only to defenders of socialism and closed to the Stalinist hierarchy and the Soviet aristocracy, to recreate the basis of workers' power in Soviet society.
11. For a new mass Bolshevik (Leninist-Trotskyist) party, based on the revolutionary traditions of October and the struggle against Stalinist counterrevolution and bureaucratic authoritarianism. For the Soviet section of the Fourth International.
5. The Disorientation of Our International Leaderships
It is obvious that the crisis-ridden forces of the Fourth International have been too small to influence in any substantial way either the events that led to Gorbachevism or the events that have followed from the evolution of Gorbachev's policies since Gorbachev came to power in 1985. In part for this reason, the leaderships which have put forward the various counterposed documents in IDBs 1, 2, 5, and 6, all share an assumption that our International's role in this period of upheaval must be conceived essentially as an adaptation to non-Trotskyist forces of one sort or another (reformist-Stalinist, social-democratic, centrist, petty-bourgeois-or even bourgeois-nationalist). They differ over which forces should be the focus of adaptation and what the precise forms and limitations of adaptation should be.
In the debate on the Soviet Union, as on international perspectives in general, a misleading division has emerged between supposed "pessimists" (the international majority leadership) and supposed "optimists" (the tendency headed by comrade Matti and the leadership of the British International Socialist Group [ISG]).
The international majority looks at the world situation, including in particular the situation and role of the Soviet Union, and rather honestly concludes that the struggle for socialism faces grave difficulties. From its realism, however, it draws essentially negative if not despairing conclusions. Some leading supporters of the majority seem to have concluded that nothing much at all can be done other than to wait for a change in the political weather. Others assume that the inevitable practical implication of so sober an analysis is the necessity of adaptation to nonrevolutionary or nonproletarian forces in order to facilitate the "recomposition" of the working class, the left, or any sort of progressive forces at all that seem capable of spontaneous generation.
The Matti-ISG tendency are determined to be optimists -- so in the name of "optimism" they read reality inside-out: every bad thing is really good, every defeat really a positive development.
The capacity of imperialism to rain terror on Iraq with the support of the Soviet Union and initial popular support in the imperialist world -- to make a serious bid to recover from its defeats in the era of the Vietnam War -- is turned, abracadabra, into evidence of imperialist desperation. The capitalist reunification of Germany is a wonderful thing: the German workers are united now and the national oppression of East Germany eliminated. The strengthening of imperialism in general and German imperialism in particular -- the "united" German workers will surely take care of that little problem, now that they're no longer distracted by the national question.
And as for the Soviet Union -- rather than defend the social gains of October, comrade Matti now prefers to jettison the scientific analysis of the Soviet Union we have learned from Trotsky and defended throughout the history of the Fourth International as a central theoretical gain for Marxism. Following where once Shachtman led, comrade Matti and his cothinkers now suggest that state property in the means of production is not progressive in the absence of workers' democracy. Having by this theoretical legerdemain eliminated any progressive property forms to be threatened in the Soviet Union, comrade Matti need only call our attention to the crisis of Stalinism.
Unfortunately this entire dispute obscures the fundamental problems of our international organization. Both the joy of the "optimists" and the sorrow of the "pessimists" derive from a common -- false -- method. Both sides share a common, objectivist assumption that there must be an automatic, mechanical relationship between the overall state of the international class struggle and the perspective for building the revolutionary vanguard. Comrade Matti, not wishing to give up on the revolution, looks at an unfavorable situation and decides nothing important has changed since 1968: we are still in a period of large-scale struggles and mass radicalization. The international majority, not wishing to abandon reality, insists that the unfavorable situation is just that but must then conclude that Trotskyism has little to say until the situation is transformed.
Over against the two sides of this fundamentally false division, the third tendency in our International, the tendency headed by Socialist Action of the United States, has, in reality, nothing to say, on the Soviet Union or anything else. This tendency merely seeks to conceal its lack of any fundamental contribution to make to resolving our crisis of political perspectives beneath a sterile repetition of orthodoxy and a great deal of sectarian posturing toward the rest of the International. In practical terms, despite its admirable insistence in words on the necessity of building Trotskyist parties in all countries, this tendency merely offers its own idiosyncratic version of objectivist analysis and adaptationist perspectives.
The question facing us in the Soviet Union -- as around the world -- is not the immediate winning of the masses. It is winning the vanguard. That the period we face is, for now (we all understand that things will change), very difficult means we can only exceptionally build the Fourth International on the basis of mass struggles. But it does not mean we cannot build the Fourth International at all. On the contrary, the very difficulty of the situation is cruel testimony both to the crisis of the Fourth International and the rapidly growing urgency of solving this crisis.
Every new development in the Soviet Union drives home the urgency of building a Trotskyist party there and of building the Fourth International as the genuine world party of socialist revolution. But succeeding in this indispensable political task requires a fight for those few vanguard elements among the Soviet workers, peasants, intelligentsia, and youth who are looking now for a way of defending the social gains of the October revolution without relying on any wing of the Stalinist betrayers of October. Only if we win these few now to the Trotskyist program will we be able, as the situation becomes favorable, to build the mass revolutionary Soviet workers' party that alone can realize our program in history. This requires neither "optimistic" self-deception nor "pessimistic" resignation and adaptation. It requires honest analysis and the revolutionary optimism of the will that can only derive from a systematic method and program appropriate to the actual nature of the situation we face and the revolutionary tasks we can and must achieve in this situation.
It is, in fact, the question of program which is in many ways most revealing of the political failure of each of the leadership trends that has presented texts on the Soviet Union. For they offer either no meaningful program or only the most token gestures in the direction of a program (the program of "emergency measures of control and protection" presented by the majority). But why bother with a systematic program of transitional demands if an objectivist pessimism tells you there is nothing specifically "Trotskyist" that can be done now (the majority) or if an objectivist optimism tells you the workers are rushing through the crisis of Stalinism toward the socialist revolution spontaneously!
In our view, the acceptance by the next World Congress of the policies on the Soviet Union of any of these leaderships will only mean the endorsement of methods that will guarantee a role for the forces of our international organization as peripheral in the future as in the past. That is, each of these policies can only guarantee the irrelevance of the International's forces to the actual victory of proletarian revolution.
We must argue passionately the urgency of a decisive and fundamental change of course. Only if Trotskyists are prepared today to swim against the stream of illusions in market "socialism," in bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democratism, and in bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalism -- illusions which characterize or at the least dangerously limit virtually all the large-scale struggles now going on in the Soviet Union (and in Eastern Europe!) against one or another of the aspects of Gorbachevism -- can we build the independent leadership of the Soviet (and Eastern European) working class. Only by swimming against the stream today, fighting boldly and straightforwardly for our revolutionary-socialist perspectives in the face of largely unfavorable conditions, can we create the conditions that tomorrow can lead to the victory of the proletarian political revolution, which all the trends in this debate declare to be their ultimate and essential objective.
6. The Majority Position: the Objectivist Dynamic of Glasnost
Many of the elements of the analysis contained in the September 1989 international-majority text on the Soviet Union are irrefutable. The problem is the political logic the majority imputes to the processes it describes.
The majority, like all the other tendencies in our international organization, opposes perestroika, but not because it sees perestroika as representing any real threat to the collectivized economy, inside the Soviet Union or anywhere else. In essence, the majority's attitude toward perestroika is determined by its attitude toward glasnost, rather than the other way around.
The majority thinks rather like this: Perestroika is dreadful, and we must oppose it. But it isn't capitalist restoration. Moreover, perestroika inevitably arouses mass resistance to its dreadful aspects. Since glasnost facilitates and in a certain sense stimulates such mass movements, on balance the situation created by the Gorbachev reforms is rather favorable. The more perestroika, the more mass resistance tends to develop. The more glasnost, the more this mass resistance can assume organized and powerful forms. So we must do all we can to support the democratic tendencies of glasnost -- and then applaud the inevitable fireworks as they develop.
The majority tacks on to the end of its resolution a lovely passage on the necessity of political revolution, and here and elsewhere genuflects to the necessity of some sort of revolutionary leadership. But the entire organic character of the majority perspective is objectivist. It assumes that the openings of glasnost cannot be reversed -- if only we "support" them hard enough -- and that, given glasnost, objective processes will tend to sweep the Soviet masses to revolutionary conclusions.
We could only wish the real dialectic of history were so simple and so "logical."
The practical perspective of the majority is conceived as a sort of intellectual project, in which militants of our international organization will little by little make clear that, logically, real democracy is not bourgeois democracy but socialist democracy. That is, the majority systematically plays down any question of a present threat to collectivized property in order to focus all attention on the question of democracy.
The majority wants to orient toward those forces in the Soviet Union who are actively fighting for democracy. The majority recognizes the central problem of this orientation: many of these forces, in the majority resolution's words, see "the market as the `natural' antidote to the bureaucracy." But, in responding to this confusion on the part of the Soviet "democrats," the majority seems to regard the defense of the economic regime of planned economy as irrelevant to its dialogue with the Soviet "democrats." The real problem isn't that the market is inherently anarchic and unequal. It's "undemocratic."
The majority then looks to the objective development of events to make clear that the imposition of market measures will actually require authoritarianism, not democracy. This, the majority declares, will "dissociate" the "sincere" democrats, who will see that capitalism is not democratic, from the "insincere" democrats, who will support the restoration of capitalism even if it requires an authoritarian regime to achieve it.
The point is not simply that there are sincere democrats, who will see that markets are not democratic, and insincere democrats for whom market relations are more important than democracy. Even in terms of the sort of logical debate that the resolution confuses with revolutionary struggle, it is obvious that bourgeois democrats can remain sincere lovers of Democracy while supporting the authoritarian introduction of market relations as an unavoidable period of transition. The point is that workers' democracy is qualitatively different from and counterposed to bourgeois democracy.
The majority tends toward a systematic confusion of bourgeois and workers' democracy, in the interest of a dialogue with the democratic activists among the "progressive intelligentsia."
Our problem is not that the majority wants to engage actively with such elements. It is the manner in which it insists on engaging with and the priority it places on them.
We must win the best elements from the leftward-moving intelligentsia in the Soviet Union. But it is not their naivety our international organization needs to worry about. It is the naivety of an international leadership that does not understand that the intellectuals will be drawn to the side of the working class not by a debate on the abstract logic of democracy but by the evidence that the workers can take power in their own name and on their own program.
The majority's method with regard to the national question and Soviet foreign policy is essentially similar to its method with regard to perestroika and glasnost. Since "democracy" is the real issue, the majority's main concern is making sure it looks democratic enough to avoid being cut off from dialogue with the "democratic" forces in any situation.
Faced with a situation in which the victory of a separatist movement means the victory of capitalist restoration in, say, Lithuania, the majority declares "unconditional support" to the capitalist restorationists in practice while "attempting" to continue their anticapitalist propaganda.
On Soviet foreign policy, the majority resolution unsurprisingly expresses the same political confusion and the same problem of orientation as on glasnost, perestroika, and the national question.
The majority recognizes that "the Kremlin is selling off certain of its external positions and its alliances to win favors from imperialism" and criticizes as "counterrevolutionary" the "aspects of Soviet disengagement and the pressures at work behind the `settling' of `regional conflicts,' particularly in Southern Africa and Central America."
But the majority's hypersensitivity to the sensibilities of the "democratic" intelligentsia determines most of what it has to say. So the majority is "in favor of the retreat from Afghanistan," like the petty-bourgeois democrats in Europe and the Soviet Union, without raising the question of the extent to which this was a "favor" to imperialism. And the majority is quite pleased with the improvement in "the image of the USSR inherited from the Stalinist and Brezhnevite period" -- an improvement due entirely to the policy the resolution seems simultaneously to criticize as a cynical sellout.
Trotskyists ought to be able to state the simple truth on such questions, without the international majority's preoccupation with avoiding giving offense to the "sincere" pacifists in Europe and the Soviet Union. Since war can only be eliminated by the world socialist revolution, Gorbachev's weakening of the forces that advance collectivized property and the proletarian class struggle renders negligible any gains from the improvement in his image as a "peacemaker." What we should be denouncing is not "pseudo-detentes" but all the tendencies toward only too real a lessening of the antagonism between the Soviet Union and imperialism. We suggest the majority seek instruction on the relationship between Soviet foreign policy and the questions of peace and war from the people of Iraq.
7. The Apparent Critics
a. The ISG-Matti
The tendency headed by comrades Matti and Mathieu of our French section and leading comrades of the International Socialist Group of Britain would like us to believe they have a very different view of things in the Soviet Union than the majority. (See "The Soviet Union, Gorbachevism, and the Crisis of Stalinism," IDB 2, May 1990, pp. 5-12.)
They seem to call attention to the reality of the danger of capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union, in contrast to the blithe assurance of the majority that this is not a pressing matter. The majority approaches perestroika from the standpoint of glasnost. ISG-Matti insist it has to be the other way around. The majority likes to write about "workers' self-management." ISG-Matti prefer "democratically-centralized planning in the context of socialist democracy." Where the majority emphasizes its dialogue on democracy with the "democratic" forces in the Soviet intelligentsia, the ISG-Matti tendency's focus is unequivocally on the workers, the workers, and only the workers. While the majority boosts the "radical reformers," ISG-Matti prefer to boost the "socialist-stagist" Kagarlitsky.
In reality, on close examination of the two sets of positions, most of these differences turn out to be literary rather than political. The majority prefers a style that is polite, rather sophisticated, and a bit academic. ISG-Matti prefer to make us think they are defending the "old religion" by favoring a sort of imitation-Comintern-resolution style. When things get down to practical questions, most of the differences vanish or turn into mere questions of emphasis.
True, the majority's heart inclines toward the "democratic" intelligentsia, while ISG-Matti remain utterly faithful, through all temptations, to the workers. But all this really means is that the majority's own workerist objectivism is somewhat overshadowed by its objectivist project with the "democratic" intellectuals, whereas the workerist objectivism of ISG-Matti is worn on their sleeves.
Where ISG-Matti's workerist objectivism leads them is not, however, to a greater concern than the majority to resolve the crisis of working-class leadership in the Soviet Union and internationally. It leads them to positions decisively to the right of the majority -- on certain fundamental questions to the extreme right wing of our international organization.
In the ISG-Matti document on the Soviet Union, this is clearest in the section on the national question in the Soviet Union. Any pretence of the defense of collectivized property or working-class independence is abandoned here.
If there is a genuinely mass movement which demands, in struggle, to exercise the right of secession, then the role of Marxists is to support that movement, regardless of the political or class character of its leadership, and to fight for leadership of it. This would be the case even if the movement was led by forces who wanted to see the restoration of capitalism, integration into the EEC, etc., and which were vigorously supported by imperialism. ("The Soviet Union, Gorbachevism, and the Crisis of Stalinism," IDB 2, May 1990, p. 12)
Finally, in the positions we have described earlier, saluting the capitalist reunification of Germany and denying that Soviet society is a postcapitalist society (because the state ownership of property is "not a progressive measure" in the absence of workers' democracy), the ISG-Matti's workerist objectivism leads them to break entirely with central positions of Trotskyism.
In the light of all this, we can see how worthless ISG-Matti's call "to build the Fourth International in every country" is. It is simply a contradiction in terms to call for building "the Fourth International" on the basis of an abandonment of the Trotskyist program.
b. The Socialist League of Britain
The document submitted by the Socialist League of Britain ("The Results of the Policies of Gorbachev," January 1990, IDB 6, October 1990, pp. 19-24) has one great advantage over the ISG-Matti text. It focusses overwhelmingly on a demonstration of the negative consequences of the Gorbachev policies, primarily (in fact, almost exclusively) with regard to Germany and Eastern Europe. As an intervention against certain elements of optimistic objectivism in the majority's earlier positions (tending to dismiss the threats to collectivized property in Germany and Eastern Europe as well as the Soviet Union), the document has some real value.
However, the document is not only too narrowly focussed on Gorbachev's policies toward Germany and Eastern Europe. It is set in the frame of an idiosyncratic and one-sided (at points monomaniacal) theory of the evil march of "socialism in one country" through history, as if not only the entire counterrevolutionary role of Stalinism but all the major dynamics of postwar history can be reduced to this single phenomenon. More importantly, the British Socialist League's understanding of the negative impact of Gorbachev's policies is limited entirely to the setbacks to collectivized property and the strengthening of the hand of imperialism -- with nothing said about the impact on the consciousness and organization of the international working class!
This one-sided objectivism means that, for all its merits as an expression of realism on certain central questions, this text has the same problems of orientation and the same programmatic deficiencies as the majority and ISG-Matti (though there is, at least, no hypocritical call to "build the Fourth International in every country"). The document presents the Polish Socialist Party (Democratic Revolution) and Kagarlitsky as virtual Trotskyists who "deserve the strongest possible support" and, apparently, not a word of criticism, even in an internal international document. As for program, it has nothing to say about the Soviet Union at all. Its entire programmatic content consists of six concluding "tasks of socialists in Western Europe" -- not to assist the political revolution in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe but simply to build international solidarity movements against repression and militarism.
c. The Tendency for the Program of the Fourth International
Socialist Action of the USA (participating in a fraternal capacity) heads the Tendency for the Program of the Fourth International (TPFI). In its three documents (printed in IDB 5, September 1990), Socialist Action is at even greater pains than the ISG-Matti to make sure we understand that the TPFI is defending the "old religion." Nor is there any room for doubt as to the identity of the chief heretics: idolatry is one of the few crimes the international majority is not accused of.
Many of Socialist Action's criticisms of the majority are similar to our own in our call for the formation of a left tendency and in this and other documents. We also share with Socialist Action (and the ISG-Matti) an insistence on the necessity of the struggle to build Trotskyist parties in all countries as sections of the Fourth International. But, tragically, Socialist Action chooses to counterpose no positive programmatic perspective at all to the international majority's perspectives. And Socialist Action suffers from the sectarian habit of playing fast and loose with the facts and the sectarian tendency to distort its opponents' positions.
It is characteristic of Socialist Action's understanding of Trotskyism to insist that Stalinism must be counterrevolutionary "through and through" and to deride the view (held quite explicitly by Lenin and Trotsky) that in the epoch of imperialism "capitalism today can play a progressive role in developing the productive forces of society." Like all sectarians, Socialist Action confuses a refusal to think dialectically with revolutionary politics.
There are some fine things in Socialist Action's three texts. The document focussed on perestroika and glasnost lays out quite nicely a sharp set of contrasts between Gorbachev's parliamentarism and real soviet democracy. It also recognizes that "new crackdowns are inevitable" and emphasizes, rather like ISG-Matti, that there is, in some sense, a real threat of capitalist restoration. And, unlike ISG-Matti, Socialist Action clearly maintains the necessity of defending the collectivized property forms in the Soviet Union.
But, in the end, Socialist Action's "left" opposition rings as hollow as the ISG-Matti's, albeit without the most right-wing elements of ISG-Matti's current positions. Here again, the lack of real interest in program is the telltale evidence of the fundamental objectivism of the "Tendency for the Program of the Fourth International." And on the one point where Socialist Action does provide some sense of a programmatic orientation -- the national question -- we find simply a milder version of the ISG-Matti's "unconditional" support to any project of capitalist restoration that dresses itself up in nationalist garb.
If Socialist Action has no real programmatic perspective to counterpose to the majority positions and only a less dialectical method to counterpose to the majority method, it should come as no surprise that its objectivism, like that of ISG-Matti, only leads to an orientation to a somewhat different set of nonrevolutionary forces than the majority's. So, in South Africa, over against any perspective of "adaptation to the ANC," Socialist Action asserts an orientation to the centrist forces of AZAPO, the Cape Action League, Action Youth, and the CCAWUSA, declaring that it is in these groups (as well as the ANC) that "there is a core of revolutionary militants who should belong in the Fourth International" because "they are fighting what they call 'apartheid capitalism' by supporting such documents as the `Azanian Manifesto' or the `Workers' Charter.'"
Once again, the question is not whether Trotskyists need to engage with such centrist forces, in South Africa, the Soviet Union, or anywhere else. Of course we must. The question is whether we engage them on the basis of our program or of objectivist and opportunist enthusing over their centrist confusion, whether the socialist-stagism of a Kagarlitsky or the equally confused stagist theories of AZAPO or the "Workers' Charter."
Socialist Action concludes the first of its three platform texts by posing "a life-or-death question" to our international organization: "Is it possible to build the Fourth International on the basis of the political line adopted at the XII World Congress and on the basis of the USec leadership's revisionist analysis of the Stalinist bureaucracies?" Like Socialist Action, we give a negative answer to this question. But we also must make clear that the Fourth International cannot be built on the basis of empty criticism of the international majority, sterile orthodoxy, dogmatism, a rejection of dialectical thinking, sectarian posturing, and an objectivist perspective that, at best, leads to an orientation to somewhat more left-wing non-Trotskyist centrist forces than those preferred by the international leadership.
8. We Must Swim against the Stream
We understand that many comrades will respond to our criticisms by saying that we are sectarians, that our orientation simply means cutting our forces off from the dwindling number of progressive forces in the Soviet Union that are willing even to conduct a discussion with Trotskyists. We do not deny that the situation Trotskyists face in the Soviet Union today is a very difficult one. But we reject the charge that our orientation means sectarian isolation from progressive forces.
In reality there are two ways of rendering ourselves irrelevant to the development of a revolutionary process in the Soviet Union. One is to declaim our righteousness from the sidelines while finding reasons not to engage with the most advanced elements in the Soviet Union because they are, for the most part, confused and unsure, "not Trotskyist." We reject this course completely. Trotskyists are not defenders of a pure doctrine. They are revolutionary fighters, engaging directly with all the muck and mess of history without time to feel sorry for themselves because history has not happened in a way that is convenient for our socialist aspirations.
But there is a second way of rendering ourselves irrelevant. We can engage in history as it is -- but fail to wage a systematic fight to change it. We can engage with the confused progressive forces in the Soviet Union but fail to struggle systematically to change them, to win them to the only program that can make it possible for them to win.
We must be with the workers fighting austerity and bureaucratic corruption. We must be with the poor peasants trying to find a way out of poverty and backwardness. We must be with the socialist intelligentsia trying to find a way out of Stalinist authoritarianism and command economy. We must be with the youth looking for something to live and die for larger than individual gain and personal ambition. But we must be with them in order to win them to the only perspective that can liberate them from the dead ends of centrist confusion, Stalinist reformism, and bourgeois liberalism. We must give them the only thing of real importance we have: the Trotskyist program, our program. To refuse to fight with these vanguard elements now, honestly and openly, to win them to that program, in its organic entirety, is to refuse to give them the one decisive weapon they need in order to win in history.
Fighting for Trotskyism now in the Soviet Union is very difficult. We will only be able to reach a comparative handful. But organizing that handful into a small but conscious and dedicated section of the Fourth International is the decisive condition for reaching the masses tomorrow. It is the decisive step in rendering the perspective of political revolution not just something we all claim virtuously to believe in but the masses' own turning point in history.