Workers Hammer No. 236
From the archives of the ICL
"Soviet workers: Defeat Yeltsin-Bush counterrevolution!"
25 years ago
Twenty-five years ago, Boris Yeltsin’s ascension to power in the Soviet Union was a pivotal event leading to the restoration of capitalism in the home of the October Revolution. We reprint below excerpts from “Soviet Workers: Defeat Yeltsin-Bush Counterrevolution!” (Workers Vanguard no 533, 30 August 1991), which was translated into Russian and circulated in over 100,000 copies throughout the USSR. As Trotskyists, we had always defended the Soviet Union against imperialism and internal counterrevolution because it was a workers state, based on a planned, collectivised economy. At the same time, we fought for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist, nationalist caste sitting atop the workers state and to return to the internationalism and proletarian democracy of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks.
In August 1991, there was a botched coup attempt by supposedly hardline opponents of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was committed to the gradual reintroduction of capitalism while also pushing glasnost (openness). The coup plotters were no less committed to capitalist restoration; they merely sought to maintain the USSR as a unitary state (dominated by Russia). Seizing on this coup, US imperialism (then led by the first President Bush) employed its stooge, Yeltsin, to mount a counterbid for power.
A month after the coup, we forthrightly stated: “In an armed struggle pitting outright restorationists against recalcitrant elements of the bureaucracy, defense of the collectivized economy would have been placed on the agenda whatever the Stalinists’ intentions” (Workers Vanguard no 535, 27 September 1991). However, all wings of the bureaucracy proved equally bankrupt. As Bush openly backed Yeltsin and the petty-bourgeois rabble and fascistic scum supporting him, the pathetic coup plotters refused to lift a finger. They ignominiously collapsed within days.
When we issued the statement below, the proletarian state power had been fractured but not yet destroyed. The imperialist-installed Yeltsin regime was fragile and the working class had not moved. Ours was the first widely circulated piece of propaganda calling for workers action to smash the counterrevolutionary drive. We concretised this perspective through calling for independent workers committees to prevent layoffs and privatisation by taking over control of production, for the formation of committees of soldiers and officers in the armed forces to prevent anti-Communist purges and the use of the army against the interests of the workers, and for multinational workers defence guards to ward off communalist massacres.
However, decades of Stalinist rule had systematically destroyed the consciousness of the Soviet working class, rendering it mute and passive. Under the anti-Marxist dogma of building “socialism in one country”, the Stalinist misrulers capitulated to the imperialists and suppressed numerous international revolutionary opportunities, for example, China in 1927, Spain in the 1930s and Italy following World War II. Through repression and lies they methodically attacked every aspect of the revolutionary and internationalist consciousness of the Soviet proletariat. Finally, with the bureaucracy having fatally undermined the Soviet economy through gross mismanagement and corruption, the heirs of Stalin proclaimed that socialised property had been a “failed experiment” and capitalism was really the only possible system. At the same time, the accompanying virulent nationalism was a huge impetus to counterrevolution in Eastern Europe and the multinational Soviet Union.
As the document of the Second International Conference of the ICL in 1992 stated: “The events of August 1991, placing the forces of open capitalist restoration in the ascendancy in the Soviet Union, marked a turning point in contemporary world history. A piecemeal consolidation of this counterrevolution has taken place. The degenerated workers state of Stalin and his heirs has been destroyed, representing a world-historic defeat for the international working class” (“For the Communism of Lenin and Trotsky!” Spartacist [English-language edition] no 47-48, Winter 1992-93).
The bourgeoisie and the bulk of its camp followers on the reformist left hailed the counterrevolution and proclaimed the “death of communism”. Meanwhile, the peoples of the former USSR were plunged into the most desperate poverty. US imperialism, no longer challenged by Soviet military might, was emboldened to launch more wars and occupations against dependent and semicolonial peoples across the world.
Unevenly and not without contradictions, a rightward shift took place internationally, reflected in a retrogression in proletarian consciousness, wherein the connection between working-class struggle and the goals of socialism was severed. We in the ICL, the party of the Russian Revolution, continue the struggle to win the working class to Marxism in order to open the road to new Octobers.
The full version of the original article excerpted below also appeared in Workers Hammer no 125, September/October 1991.
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The working people of the Soviet Union, and indeed the workers of the world, have suffered an unparalleled disaster whose devastating consequences are now being played out. The ascendancy of Boris Yeltsin, who offers himself as Bush’s man, coming off a botched coup by Mikhail Gorbachev’s former aides, has unleashed a counterrevolutionary tide across the land of the October Revolution. The first workers state in history, sapped and undermined by decades of Stalinist bureaucratic misrule, lies in tatters. The state power has been fractured, the Communist Party — its bureaucratic core — shattered and banned from the KGB and armed forces, the multinational union is ripping apart as one republic after another proclaims secession.
But while Yeltsin & Co now see a clear field to push through a forced-draft reintroduction of capitalism, the outcome is not yet definitively decided. As the imperialists rejoice and the pro-capitalist petty bourgeoisie exult, Soviet workers are facing a disaster of catastrophic proportions: every gain for which they, their parents and grandparents sacrificed is on the chopping block. An explosion of even greater nationalist strife is looming. The lash of capitalist exploitation being introduced amid universal economic dislocation threatens widespread hunger and mass unemployment in the coming winter. The Soviet proletariat, whose capacity for militant action was dramatically shown in the miners strike of the summer of 1989, has not been heard from. Opposition from the factories against the ravages of capitalist assault could throw a giant wrench in the works and prevent the rapid consolidation of counterrevolution.
Soviet Stalinism has breathed its pathetic last gasp. Even up to the coup, many of the most advanced workers, who opposed Yeltsin’s plans for wholesale privatisation and Gorbachev’s market reforms, looked to the so-called hardline “patriotic” wing of the bureaucracy. There is no room anymore for such illusions.
The coup’s collapse and the ascendancy of counterrevolution in the Soviet Union buttresses, for the present moment, Bush’s proclaimed “New World Order” militarily dominated by the US. Following its annihilation of Iraq, the triumphalist and vengeful American ruling class threatens to turn its wrath, unrestrained by the deterrent of a powerful USSR, against myriad peoples of the world. Cuba, in particular, is in Bush’s cross- hairs, and its defence is more than ever a duty of all opponents of Yankee imperialism.
From the time of Stalin’s bureaucratic usurpation of power in 1924, Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition waged an unrelenting fight for the internationalist programme of the Bolshevik Revolution. Under the deadly blows of Stalinist terror and slander, the Trotskyists persevered as the best and only consistent defenders of the remaining revolutionary gains. Today the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) continues this struggle.
Stalinism was the political rule of a bureaucratic caste parasitically sitting atop the proletarian property forms created by the October Revolution of 1917. Whether during the bloody purges of the 1930s or the myriad “reforms” from Khrushchev and others, this system based on lies and repression of the working class not only blocked further progress towards socialism but clogged every pore of Soviet society. After decades of self-sacrifice extracted from the proletariat in the name of building “socialism in one country”, Gorbachev’s perestroika was the last desperate attempt of the Stalinist bureaucracy to preserve its position by adopting capitalist measures. But like Nikolai Bukharin’s appeals to the rich peasants (kulaks) in the late 1920s to “enrich yourselves”, perestroika fuelled the forces of capitalist restoration which have now reached their fruition with Yeltsin’s countercoup.
Boris Yeltsin is not a “Westerniser” — he is an extreme Russian chauvinist who intends to sell out the Soviet Union to the West. He is connected to a far-right, racist outfit in the US called the “Free Congress Foundation” (whose East European operatives include notorious Nazi collaborators) which takes credit for “training” him and his staff on how to seize power. His laws are being drawn up by advisers supplied by the US government. One of Yeltsin’s first acts as Moscow party chief in the mid ’80s was to legitimise the anti-Semitic Pamyat fascists when they emerged from their ratholes. While he promises working people that the free market will bring them prosperity, in fact it will lead to the elimination of what every Soviet worker considered a right until recently: a stable job, free healthcare, an education for their children — gains which all rest on the collectivised economy.
The alternatives posed before the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state have always been: counterrevolution or Trotskyism. Today Stalinism is dead. The key to frustrating the bloody plans of Bush, Yeltsin and their counterrevolutionary cohorts is the early forging of a Trotskyist nucleus in the Soviet Union, regrouping those elements in the workers movement, the army and throughout society who would fight for the programme of October....
Fight capitalist enslavement!
For decades, the Stalinists and imperialists have joined together in identifying the system of bureaucratic rule installed by Stalin and his henchmen in 1924 with Leninism. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky carried out the October Revolution as the first step of the world socialist revolution. Backward Russia, the “weak link” of imperialist rule, was the scene of the first workers revolution, but it had to be completed by the proletariat in the advanced imperialist countries if it was to sustain itself and lead to socialism, a society of equality based on abundance. It was on the basis of the defeat of the European revolutions, centrally in Germany, in the 1918-23 postwar period, that the usurpers Stalin/Bukharin “discovered” the profoundly anti-Marxist notion that it was possible to construct “socialism in one country”. Trotsky denounced this nationalist dogma as writing off the world revolution, and predicted it would be the undoing of the Soviet Union if the bureaucracy was not swept away by the resurgent working class.
In his decisive analysis of Stalinism, The Revolution Betrayed (1937), Trotsky asked prophetically, “Will the bureaucrat devour the workers’ state, or will the working class clean up the bureaucrat?” In developing this, he elaborated the programme of proletarian political revolution led by a Bolshevik party to re-establish Soviet democracy. The planned economy would be subordinated to the will of the workers, freeing it from the arbitrary zigzags of the faceless, grey bureaucrats. And instead of the conservative anti-revolutionary policies of Stalin’s Kremlin, the Soviet Union would again become the headquarters of international socialist revolution. He also spelled out the bleak alternative:
“If — to adopt a second hypothesis — a bourgeois party were to overthrow the ruling Soviet caste, it would find no small number of ready servants among the present bureaucrats, administrators, technicians, directors, party secretaries and privileged upper circles in general. A purgation of the state apparatus would, of course, be necessary in this case too. But a bourgeois restoration would probably have to clean out fewer people than a revolutionary party. The chief task of the new power would be to restore private property in the means of production. First of all, it would be necessary to create conditions for the development of strong farmers from the weak collective farms, and for converting the strong collectives into producers’ cooperatives of the bourgeois type — into agricultural stock companies. In the sphere of industry, denationalization would begin with the light industries and those producing food. The planning principle would be converted for the transitional period into a series of compromises between state power and individual ‘corporations’ — potential proprietors, that is, among the Soviet captains of industry, the émigré former proprietors and foreign capitalists. Notwithstanding that the Soviet bureaucracy has gone far toward preparing a bourgeois restoration, the new regime would have to introduce in the matter of forms of property and methods of industry not a reform, but a social revolution.”
Every Soviet worker, collective farmer, pensioner and soldier will immediately recognise that this process of counterrevolution is well under way. The state monopoly of foreign trade has been scuttled, the planned economy abandoned. In their stead, imperialist corporations from Pepsi-Cola to Chevron oil have made encroachments on the Soviet economy. The Russian federation’s new “land reform” lays the basis for destroying the kolkhoz collectives, promising rural poverty for the many and riches for the new kulaks. “Co-operative” profiteers and black market speculators have grown explosively in the vacuum of the collapsed distribution system. But this is only the beginning. Yeltsin now intends to ram through capitalist restoration at breakneck pace. Yavlinsky, co-author of the Harvard-designed “grand bargain” to sell out the Soviet Union to the imperialists, is now in charge of the economy. But for the Soviet working masses, the “magic of the marketplace” holds the promise of hunger and homelessness....
We Trotskyists have defended the Soviet Union
Today the Soviet Union faces being dismembered and its constituent republics turned into neocolonies of Washington, Berlin and Tokyo. The present collapse of the Stalinist bureaucracy has its immediate origins in the renewed Cold War offensive launched by American imperialism after its ignominious defeat in Vietnam. In every key battleground of Cold War II — Afghanistan, Poland, the German Democratic Republic (DDR) — the International Communist League (ICL, formerly the international Spartacist tendency) has stood resolutely in defence of the Soviet Union against the capitulation of the Kremlin bureaucracy.
Where the Soviet Stalinists waged a halfhearted war against CIA-armed Islamic reactionaries in Afghanistan, ultimately selling out and withdrawing, we said “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” and called to “Extend Social Gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan Peoples!” When in late 1981 Polish Solidarno??, under the guidance of Reagan and Pope John Paul Wojtyla, made a bid for power in the name of “bourgeois democracy”, we raised the call: “Stop Solidarno?? Counterrevolution!” General Jaruzelski’s countercoup temporarily spiked these clerical-nationalist front men for Wall Street and Washington. But the Stalinists had neither the moral authority nor the programme to undercut counterrevolution, and eight years later the same Jaruzelski, with Gorbachev’s approval, abdicated political power to Walesa & Co.
When in late 1989 the Honecker regime in East Germany fell and the Berlin Wall was opened, the ICL threw its forces into the fight for the perspective of a red Germany of workers councils. We initiated the call for the giant Treptow anti-fascist demonstration of 3 January 1990, which drew 250,000 people to honour the Soviet soldiers who died liberating Germany from the Nazis. Then, as Gorbachev gave the green light to a reunified Fourth Reich of German imperialism, our comrades of the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany were the only party which clearly and unambiguously opposed capitalist reunification.
Within the Soviet Union representatives of the ICL have fought for a revolutionary internationalist perspective. Thus at a coal miners congress last October in Donetsk, we helped block the effort of right-wing, Yeltsinite forces advised by the American “AFL-CIA” federation to enlist Soviet miners in the international anti-Communist witch hunt against British miners leader Arthur Scargill. The imperialist rulers hate Scargill because he led the 1984-85 British miners strike — which Soviet workers generously aided. This momentous class battle gave the lie to the self-serving Stalinist myth that workers in advanced capitalist countries are incapable of hard-fought class struggle.
We urgently seek to bring the programme of Trotskyism to the Soviet proletariat and socialist-minded intelligentsia with our Russian-language Spartacist Bulletin, containing in addition to key documents of the ICL the section on the USSR from Trotsky’s Transitional Programme.