1990s >> 1990 >> no-1032-august-1990

Russia’s Crisis Congress

The party is not quite over yet – but nearly. Everybody knows that the party has been a disaster. There was not enough food. The waiters got drunk on bad vodka. The speeches were foolish, uninspiring and full of lies. The books on the shelves, left there purposely so that guests could delude themselves with stories of the raving success of the party, were written by committees which were briefed to make hell look like a sunshine holiday. It was a useless, horrible, miserable party and now they are leaving in droves, despite threatening looks from fat guys in uniforms who stroke their Lenin badges.

It is the Communist Party of the Soviet Union which is marching steadily into its own shallow grave. Its past has been exposed as tyranny in the name of workers’ dictatorship. Its present is surrounded by a ruined state-capitalist economy and a disillusioned workforce. Its future is a fantasy in the minds of fat-cat bureaucrats who cannot conceive of the idea that they are no longer to be an unelected ruling class. In reality, the future of the Communist Party in the Russian Empire is about as optimistic as were the futures of genuine socialists and communists in the days of Stalin.

Death cries of Leninism
The 28th Congress of the CPSU last month was the most important since 1917. By comparison, the 20th Congress, when Khrushchev denounced Stalin after Stalin was dead and the damage had been done, can be seen as a bit of political posturing by politicians who wanted to distance themselves from the fascistic history of Stalinism. The second most important Congress since 1917 was the 27th in 1986; it was there that the newly-appointed boss of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, declared the need to reform the economy. There is a great deal of talk, mainly by naive leftists and media pundits, about the immensity of Gorbachev’s role in bringing about change.

Capitalist observers of history always need the Great Men: Stalin – Bad; Gorbachev – Good – and that’s that. The fact of the matter is that Gorbachev is a Leninist hack, a careerist political climber who worked his way up the party dictatorship without ever denouncing its undemocratic rule or false claim to be a workers’ state. Gorbachev is a Leninist, even though he is now having to play down such unpopular imagery .The difference between the 27th and 28th Congresses can be sensed from Gorbachev’s closing speech at the former:

“What can be said today is that our Congress was held in an atmosphere of Party principledness and unity, exactingness and Bolshevik-style truth . . . It is precisely in this way, in Lenin’s spirit, that we have acted at our Congress. It is precisely in this way that we are going to act in the future as well.” (Tass, 6 March, 1986)

Since then the party has fallen to pieces. Monolithism, which was forced on the party by Lenin’s tyrannical resolution banning internal party opposition at the 10th Congress in 1921, has been abandoned. The article (number Six) of the national constitution banning the existence of other political parties was repealed in February. This did not happen because Gorbachev and his cronies fancied the idea of a little political pluralism. On the contrary, Gorbachev was persistent in declaring that Article Six could not be abandoned in the foreseeable future; in short, one-party dictatorship must prevail. The change came because millions of the party’s subjects no longer believe in “Bolshevik-style truth”. They see it as consisting of an Orwellian vocabulary where a state-capitalist prison is defined as a socialist paradise.

Gorbachev may have been certain that “we are going to act in the future” in the spirit of Lenin, just as Hitler thought that he would rule for a thousand years and Thatcher probably does too, but the utter bankruptcy of Leninism as a method of ruling over people has reached a point of crisis. By 1990 it became clear to those who would see that offering the workers a touch of democracy from above (glasnost) or attempting piecemeal reforms of the economy (perestroika) would not keep them obedient. The clamour for change was too loud to be ignored.

There were two options which were available if the 28th Congress was to be avoided. The military could try to stage a coup. There are quite a few Russian generals and KGB chiefs who think with admiration of the way that the Deng gang saved their skins in Tiananmen Square. That talk of a military coup is widespread in the upper ranks of the army is no secret. An attempted coup could still happen – certainly local attempts to use military force to hold on to state power by the party rulers could be envisaged – but it is uncertain whether the conscript soldiers would carry out such orders on a broad enough scale to make it effective. Remember that in Rumania, the only state capitalist dictatorship where the party men have so far attempted to resist the will of the majority, most of the soldiers, being workers themselves, went to the side of the majority. In the so-called Soviet army the workers in uniform have formed a union called Shield and the first article of its constitution is that its members refuse to fire on workers of their own country.

The other way in which Gorbachev could have tried to hold back the demise of his party would have been to cancel the 28th Congress. It is reported that he was advised to do this, but as soon as reports were circulated it became clear that the congress would take place whether it was cancelled formally or not. Communist Party branches from throughout the Empire (no, not the USSR – what is Socialist or Soviet about a one-party tyranny?) were determined to voice their anger at the condition they found themselves in.

Splits and factions
What was it, then, that delegates came to say at the 28th Congress? There were four main factions. Firstly, there were the so-called radicals. The term “radical” has a nice sound about it. It makes these people seem like fresh-thinking progressives. This is far from being the case. The “radicals” are those who have seen that state capitalism cannot be reformed and want to see a non-statist market economy set up in the Russian Empire as soon as possible. They are intoxicated by illusory information about the success of Britain and the USA. Just as media simplifiers have pushed the myth that Gorbachev invented the changes in eastern Europe, so they repeat the idea that Boris Yeltsin is the chief “radical”. To be sure, Yeltsin is the most popular politician amongst Russian workers who want quick change, but his radicalism is based upon populist posturing which appeals to Russian national chauvinism, and wholly ignorant economic promises about the benefits for workers within a free market. Amongst the other “radicals” there is much debate about how to run a market economy without the state. Their main concern is to become the beneficiaries of the capital that is now state-owned. The “radicals” are a private capitalist class in waiting. Indeed, some of them are already investing their roubles in the non-state co-operatives (private businesses, in fact) which have a major growth area in the economy. The “radicals” have formed a faction called Democratic Platform: although it only had less that 10 percent of the delegates at the 28th Congress, its grass roots support within the Communist Party is nearer to 50 percent.

Opposed to Democratic Platform are the conservatives. These are the party men whose whole lives have been spent on rising within the ruling class by means of spewing out its hollow Leninist clichés to order. Their main symbol is Yegor Ligachev, the last remaining Politburo Brezhnevite, until the Congress, when he was removed. Most of Brezhnev’s men have either died or been purged.

The conservatives maintain that the seventy-year tragedy of Leninism has been a great success story. They are the ravers at the party, dancing away into the early hours as if it does not really matter that the peanuts have all gone and there is a lynch-mob at the front door. One should not feel sorry for these old swines. They have built careers on the harsh exploitation of workers who were forbidden by law to fight back. They dared to tell the wage slaves of the Russian Empire that a “Socialist Republic” had been achieved in 1917. While the mass of the population were miseducated by the propaganda of Leninism, the members of the Leninist vanguard were living in the country dachas, driving the limousines and shopping in special stores which stock luxury goods. Is it any wonder that they are now hated? They are fighting for their survival as a class. They deserve what is coming to them.

A third faction at the Congress were the nationalists. The break-up of the Russian Empire is very likely. The nationalist delegates want to be part of the new ruling class within the new states. Fourthly, there are the Gorbachev crowd. They want to hold on to party control over capitalism, but they know that they must make certain democratic concessions and introduce major economic reforms in order to do so. In order to please the “radicals” they are abandoning support for state capitalism and declaring full support for a market economy of the German or British type. This has kept some “radicals” within the party, but the more that centralised party planning fails the quicker the rush to leave will be. They do not want to take the blame. At the same time, the Gorbachev leadership must convince the conservatives that their power will not end with the demise of state capitalism. Frankly, unless there is a military coup, the conservatives have little choice but to sit tight and hope that Gorbachev is right. To the nationalists, Gorbachev is offering state funding and the chance to be part of a successful economy. To most nationalists the offer is not of the sort that leads to ecstasy.

Change beyond the Change
At the 28th Congress the Communist Party split. Having split it will now face competition from other parties – notably the party to be formed in the autumn by Lysenko and the “radicals” – and it is highly likely that millions of workers will respond, if only negatively, by voting for anything but the Communist Party. In some cases, this “anything” is not a very savoury entity. In the non-Russian republics the non-Leninist outfits will be nationalistic and will drift quickly into extreme right-wing economic thinking. In Russia, which is where the battle is really going to be fought out, the prospect of widespread support for chauvinistic, religious, racist and ultra-Thatcherite policies is high on the agenda. There is a degree of free-market utopianism which has affected Russian “intellectuals” which is similar to the kind of myopic instant love felt by many Western “intellectuals” towards the Stalinist utopia.

There are too many politicians playing with the dreams of the workers of the Russian Empire. One thing is for certain: these workers are going to be hurt terribly. After years of putting up with the illusion of socialism, they will now be forced to endure mass unemployment, price inflation and wage cuts to pay for Western loans. All of this in the name of capitalist freedom. Marxism is a dirty word amongst these workers. They were taught that Lenin and Stalin and Brezhnev were all good Marxists and they are sick of the product. The present writer wrote an article for a Russian newspaper called ‘Socialism Without Bolshevism’, but was advised by the editor to cut out the positive reference to socialism as it would stick in the throats of the paper’s sixty-million plus readers.

William Morris wrote of “the change beyond the change”. He was writing about people in late feudal society looking at the dawn of capitalism and how they must look not only to the change which was before them, but to the change after that. We socialists must do the same thing now. As we look at eastern Europe we have mixed feelings: the end of Leninism and the democratic struggle by which this has happened is a source of inspiration, but the changes which are happening . . .

We are Marxists who see change not as a single event with a beginning and an end. The victory of Bolshevism in Russia marked the defeat of autocratic Tsarism, which was a mighty advance, but it also marked the emergence of the myth of a socialist state, which was arguably the greatest obstacle that has since stood in the way of the revolutionary socialist movement. Now that Bolshevism is dying – almost dead, we would be foolish to waste time mourning the victory of the free-market antithesis. Our eyes are upon the struggle of the morrow, not for the victory of this faction of that party, or of this nationality or that reform, but for the realisation on the part of our fellow workers that however you organise this rotten system it will still be rotten. It is rotten under Gorbachev; it is the same under Bush, Kohl or Mitterand. And its rottenness will give rise to men and women who will not be content with less rotten: they will go for the change beyond the change.

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