Forthcoming LCFI book: the Counterrevolution in the USSR: Preface to the English Edition

This book is the first the LCFI has produced. Its purpose is to address problems that are of major significance to socialists and communists today. The context is an important historical anniversary, the 30th anniversary of the destruction of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1991. The USSR, for all its degeneration, was the state that was created by the world’s first successful proletarian insurrection in 1917. Its survival for 74 years, albeit for most of that period in a bureaucratically degenerated form, inspired numerous revolutionary struggles around the world.

The October 1917 Russian Revolution, led by the Bolshevik Party, was centrally guided by Lenin and Trotsky, who between them put forward the strategic aim of the revolution: the conquest of power by the working class of the former Tsarist empire, supported by the peasants and oppressed nations and nationalities who had been forcibly incorporated into that “prison house of peoples”. The principled aim of this class alliance behind the proletariat in power was for the proletariat to act as emancipator of the peasantry and the oppressed peoples. Their perspective was reliance on the strength and revolutionary class consciousness of the European, and ultimately world working class to ensure the final victory of socialism.

The Bolshevik Revolution was conceived of, and took place, as part of a Europe-wide revolutionary upheaval resulting from the world war. Revolution flared in Germany in short order after the Bolsheviks taking power, concurrently with the defeat of the Kaiser. The Habsburgs in Austria-Hungary collapsed, the French fleet mutinied, an a (too brief) general strike erupted in Britain against military intervention in Russia. From China to India to Ireland to much of Asia, revolutionary upheavals flared up across the colonial world, to the point that the Bolsheviks were able to hold a Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku in 1920 attended by 1900 delegates representing colonized peoples around the world. This was in the context of 13 different imperialist armies invading Soviet Russia to try to put down the revolution. This was the most massive revolutionary upheaval up to now in the history of capitalism and was only defeated because the bourgeoisie of the European imperialist counties, which were shaken to the core by these events, was saved by the treacherous leaderships of the Social Democratic and Labour Parties, who struggled might and main to save the bourgeoisie and to put down the workers revolution.

The defeat of the post WWI revolutionary wave led to the isolation of the Russian Revolution, and the prolonged siege, scarcity and privation caused by imperialism against a revolution in such a backward country led to the opportunity for a conservative labour bureaucracy to crystallize. Over time and by degrees, this emerging social formation strove to water down and undermine the revolutionary politics of Lenin and Trotsky’s Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and the Communist International, overthrowing and then savagely persecuting the revolutionary wing. The rise of such a conservative and anti-internationalist bureaucracy was fought by Trotsky and the Left Opposition after Lenin’s death, but it was a losing battle in Russia against an emerging leadership that had the means to abuse the authority of the Russian Revolution to sabotage revolutions around the world, from Germany to China to Spain.  The Trotskyists were forced to attempt to create a new workers’ international, the Fourth International, in these circumstances, a struggle which continues today but which still has not yet overcome the enormous difficulties this period created. We have not yet succeeded in creating a new mass International capable of leading new proletarian revolutions.

The gravest unnecessary defeats of the proletariat in history took place in the 1930s, but concurrently with a massive, bureaucratically driven, and at times adventurist and bloody, expansion of the productive forces in Russia through collectivization and industrialization. Crucial revolutionary upheavals were defeated in blood by the fascists and Nazis, the ultimate armed thugs of capitalism, because the bureaucracy which had usurped power in the workers state blatantly sabotaged revolutions, most notoriously in Spain. They feared that any new proletarian revolution would lead to them losing power to the revolutionary workers.

Their treachery helped Hitler to power in Germany and led directly to the Second Imperialist War and the Nazi attack on the USSR, which had to be fought off with the most gargantuan effort and losses (27 million dead) by the peoples of the USSR. In contradiction to their treachery, their industrialization undoubtedly helped to save the USSR in the terrible war with Hitler. Despite the treachery of the leadership and the attempted sabotage of revolutions again by Stalin, with revolutionary situations in Italy, France, Greece and Vietnam, to mention a few, the class struggles launched by and after the war triggered off a new wave of social revolutions. These were constrained within nationalist shackles of iron by the Stalinist movement, but still led to a temporary expansion of the revolution in a deformed manner. After the defeat of the Hitler-led imperialist bloc in WWII, US imperialism finally gained hegemony over the capitalist world, but in a context where the USSR had played a major role in the defeat of its imperialist rivals and was a major force to be reckoned with.

This was in a context where, as a result of that conquest of US hegemony, the imperialist countries now hegemonized underwent a massive 30-year boom, the greatest expansion in the history of capitalism, that only went into crisis in the 1970s. At the same time, massive struggles and instabilities inherited by US imperialism from the European colonial empires that it had defeated and subsumed, together with the results of its own depredations, led to a wave to revolutions in backward countries that resulted in the creation of short-lived workers states, led by bureaucratic nationalist forces often led by Stalinist cadre, or at least partially trained by such cadre, by means of mainly rural guerilla struggles based on the peasantry not the conscious working class. These states embodied gains for the working class insofar as capitalism was abolished and replaced by a collectivized economy in which basic employment and working-class welfare were guaranteed, not subordinated to profit. At the same time their leaderships were hostile to world revolution, treacherous and at times prepared to ally with imperialism even against each other, as was manifested most appallingly in the Sino-Soviet split that lasted from the early 1960s until the destruction of the USSR.

A number of these deformed workers states were created, enough to cover around one third of the world’s land area by the 1970s, for a relatively brief period. They were secondary products of the Russian Revolution and much more fragile and shorter-lived than the USSR itself. The East European buffer countries conquered by the Soviet Red Army, and North Korea, were joined by Yugoslavia, Albania, China, Vietnam and its satellites, and finally Cuba, that were created by such guerilla struggles. Today, 30 years after the USSR was destroyed, two of these deformed workers states remain, Cuba and North Korea. The defence of those against counterrevolution from within and without is still one of the most important duties of Marxists today.

This publication aims to address the issues posed by the demise of the USSR and touches on other deformed workers states which are no more, such as China, and some of the complexities which they also pose for Marxists today. As well as addressing Afghanistan, which played a key role in the demise of the USSR, and which also subsequently played a secondary role in the imperialist ‘war on terror’ and the complex and predatory remaking of the Middle East involving such secondary imperialist powers as Britain and Israel, under the overall hegemony of the US, in the period since the destruction of the Soviet bloc. Obviously in a preface you do not seek to repeat the argumentation in the material itself, but it is to be hoped that this will provide some background to the issues discussed in the rest of the book.

The thrust of our politics, as should be clear from the articles, is militant defence of the gains of the working class as embodied in all social revolutions, no matter how deformed, against imperialism and counterrevolution, as well as defence of all oppressed peoples and nations against imperialism. We reject ‘third campism’, the phoney ‘neutrality’ between deformed workers states and their imperialist enemies, just as we reject neutrality in struggles between oppressed peoples and nations, and imperialism in the various wars and proxy wars imperialism continually wages to subjugate and destroy any movement or government that refuses to subordinate themselves totally to imperialist strategy. Our position is one of revolutionary defencism of all workers states, the anti-imperialist united front in struggles against imperialism more generally, and permanent revolution, the proletariat acting as the universal emancipator in all democratic and liberation struggles. Our strategy, in short, is that of the world revolution in the tradition of the Bolsheviks. Hopefully these articles will make this perspective more concrete to militants who read this book.

We are seeking to refound a consistent Trotskyist tendency. All Trotskyist groups claim the first 4 congresses of the 3rd International and revolutionary defensism. But, in fact, none have done so consistently. Some of those with better positions on the Anti-Imperialist United Front in the past, have capitulated to Zionism, and thus undermined this position. Our former leading comrade Gerry Downing in Britain did this, and also took a third-campist position on August 1991. The IBT was consistently defencist in August 1991. But, like the whole Spartacist family, the IBT is not consistent in defense of the first 4 congresses of the 3rd International.

The Spartacists were also partially correct over Poland. They were correct to denounce the infatuation of Polish workers with capitalist democracy. But they did not understand why neoliberalism and capitalist democracy had gained mass support in this period, because of the political failure of Stalinism in the period of its seemingly greatest extension, with the defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam. As well as correctly siding militarily with the Polish Stalinist regime against the Solidarnosc leadership to prevent capitalist restoration, they also expressed contempt for the economic discontent of Polish workers that drove the workers movement in those days, suggesting Polish workers were fat from eating too much meat, etc.

The Polish economy had been brought to ruin by attempts by liberal Stalinists to buy off workers demands for workers control from 1956 onwards with economic concessions funded by imperialist loans, that led to a crisis of more and more indebtedness. Each time the regime tried to raise food prices to assist paying these debts, the workers revolted to defend their living standards. These revolts were clearly supportable. The low productivity and shortages in the Soviet bloc were in large measure a product of the suppression of working-class democracy. As Trotsky noted in the Revolution Betrayed:

“The rough work of borrowing, imitating, transplanting and grafting, was accomplished on the bases laid down by the revolution. There was, thus far, no question of any new word in the sphere of technique, science or art. It is possible to build gigantic factories according to a ready-made Western pattern by bureaucratic command – although, to be sure, at triple the normal cost. But the farther you go, the more the economy runs into the problem of quality, which slips out of the hands of a bureaucracy like a shadow. The Soviet products are as though branded with the gray label of indifference. Under a nationalized economy, quality demands a democracy of producers and consumers, freedom of criticism and initiative – conditions incompatible with a totalitarian regime of fear, lies and flattery.”

Poland became thus an outrider for the rise of popular support for neoliberalism in the Soviet bloc countries. It was precisely the aversion to workers democracy, the regimes seeking imperialist largesse to buy off the demand for it from below, that economically and politically undermined the class consciousness of the workers and made neoliberal capitalism appear as a way out of the economic and political impasse. So while it was correct to bloc militarily with the Stalinists to suppress the leadership of Solidarnosc, the anti-working class thrust of Spartacism’s attacks on Polish workers needs to be condemned.

Clear examples of this occurred in Spart propaganda at the time. For instance, in their key pamphlet on Poland from 1981, Solidarnosc: Polish Company Union for CIA and Bankers, there is a photo on p16 highlighting shortages in Polish shops, with the caption: “Shopping in Poland: No meat, no soap, no cigarettes. In order to eat one must work.”. Other passages in the same pamphlet make the same point:

“Russian and Ukrainian collective farms now supply Poland with food, even though the consumption level, especially of meat, is much higher in Warsaw and Gdansk than in Moscow and Kiev…”

p21

Or on page 31 we get:

“The Poles have contradictory economic aspirations. There is an overwhelming demand to abolish the special shops-an egalitarian socialist measure. Yet all those who get dollars from relatives in America would like to spend them on luxury goods imported from the West. For strike leaders who yearn for capitalism, we suggest a long vacation in Liverpool where they won’t have to stand in line to buy anything. Of course, they will have a little difficulty finding a job, and even if they do their pay will be so low that they will have to cut back on their meat consumption.”

So, as well as a correct position of condemning capitalist restoration, a frankly anti-union element, tinged with an element of chauvinist hostility to Polish workers (and bizarrely, to Polish cuisine!) seeped into Spartacist propaganda around Polish Solidarnosc. This is, to say the least, a serious deviation from Trotskyism – we do not blame the working class for the crimes, betrayals and economic idiocies of Stalinist regimes. While we were for defending socialized property in Poland against the pro-capitalist leadership of Solidarnosc, this aspect of Spartacist material needs to be condemned. Even in those conditions, we continue to defend trade union rights against the Stalinist regime, and strikes whose objectives are economic and not politically aimed at capitalist restoration are still defensible. We certainly do not solidarise with the anti-union malice implied in the epigram “In order to eat one must work” implying that strikers deserve to starve.

What is a bit astonishing, in hindsight, is that for all their often insightful criticism of the Spartacists over many questions in that period, the IBT never appear to have criticised this aspect of Spartacism.

The IBT does not claim defensism for the colonial countries nor does it defend the Anti-Imperialist United Front. We in the LCFI, possibly for the first time in the post-WWII history of Trotskyism, can be completely revolutionary defensist, unconditionally defending workers’ states and oppressed countries against counter-revolution and imperialism, without lending support to the politics of Stalinism or bourgeois nationalism. This is the overall political point we wish to spell out with the launch of our first book, as revolutionary defencists, as manifested in our defence of the united front with the Stalinist bureaucracy (Jaruzelski, Yanayev) and the oppressed countries (Malvinas, Hussein, Gaddafi, Assad, Taliban, Hong Kong, Ukraine, Belarus).

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