LCFI Statement: Soviet-bloc Counterrevolution Still Traumatises Humanity

– 30 Years since August Coup and Collapse of the USSR.

– Almost 20 years of imperialist occupation in Afghanistan collapses in days.

– A critique of a flawed analysis of the counterrevolution and its effects

Russian Revolution 1917

The Russian October Revolution was the greatest event so far in human history.  It was the first opportunity for humanity to begin to abolish the capitalist system whose quest for profit had already led to the nightmare of millions of workers being dragged into massacring each other across Europe as the various imperialist powers fought each other to divide and redivide the world.

For us, the USSR was a state unlike any other. The proletariat built its own bodies of power, the popular councils, built its own revolutionary party, the Bolsheviks, and seized power from the bourgeoisie, establishing its own class dictatorship. The class character of the state born out of the Bolshevik and Soviet revolution is determined by the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, by the nationalization of the means of production, by economic planning. As long as this state maintained and defended the property relations born of this revolution, for us the USSR was a workers’ state.

But, in less than a decade, the USSR underwent a degenerative process, a political counterrevolution. A bureaucratic caste emerged from the material conditions imposed by the class struggle, the legacy of Russian society’s agrarian backwardness, the aftermath of the First World War, the civil war and invasion of the country by an international bourgeois military coalition and later by the siege, sanctions and blockades established by imperialist world capital. Therefore, it was a degenerated or bureaucratized workers’ state. A political revolution was needed to re-establish the political power of the workers and reject all attempts to restore the bourgeoisie, by internal or external agents, carrying out, if necessary, a united front with the bureaucracy in the face of the capitalist counter-revolution.

And in the second post-war period, as part of the gaps left by the defeat of fascism, a whole series of workers’ states emerged from East Germany to North Korea, passing through Albania, China, Yugoslavia and Cuba. They were the result of different revolutionary processes under nationalist, Stalinist leaderships, or simply bureaucratic annexation to the USSR. In any case, these were processes that were born under bureaucratic deformations, without workers’ democracy. The bourgeoisie was expropriated, but the workers did not organize themselves into revolutionary Marxist parties or create bodies of dual power as in the first years of the USSR, and that is why they are called deformed workers’ states.

So, if the Russian revolution was one of the greatest achievements of the proletariat in the history of class struggle, conversely, the defeat of the degenerate Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991 was, on the contrary, a great defeat for the world working class, which demands analysis. and proper understanding. The degeneration of the Russian Revolution, the analysis of the reasons for that degeneration and of the self-reinforcing series of betrayals that cemented Stalinism in power though the repeated sabotage of opportunities to extend the world revolution, all these are matters which must be clarified by the would-be revolutionary left today to understand our tasks going forward. So are the processes by which the counterrevolution was able to succeed, the points of continuity and discontinuity in the situation today, the points of support that persist which Marxists need to make use of to advance the class struggle today. This document attempts to address some of these questions.

Its 30 years almost to the day since the bankruptcy of Stalinism brought about the collapse of the USSR. The attempted coup in late August 1991 by a group of bureaucrats, military men, and dignitaries (including Vice President Gennadi Yanayev) in the apparatus of the disintegrating Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) briefly overthrew the government of the last Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, imprisoning the Soviet leader and his immediate circle for three days, before the coup collapsed. The bankruptcy of Yanayev’s Emergency Committee is associated with the bankruptcy of Stalinism (and Krushchevism), however, in retrospect, if we could establish a political position in August 1991, it would be that of a critical alignment in a united front anti-capitalist restoration policy with the Emergency Committee against Yeltsin.

One reason that the coup collapsed is that it did not manage to get the support of even the bulk of the military and repressive apparatus of the USSR. It also failed to get any significant mass support. The coup-plotters were themselves thoroughly demoralised and according to some accounts, spent much of the three days of the coup drinking heavily, no doubt suspecting they would lose. Gorbachev’s programme of political liberalisation (glasnost) and ‘market socialism’ (perestroika) failed to overcome the stagnation of the Soviet economy as the regime hoped and had led to growing economic turmoil and declines in living standards over the period of his presidency from 1985-1990.

August 1991 Coup in Moscow

Toward the end of 1990, jointly with Boris Yelstin, he put together a 500-day plan for the rapid transformation of the USSR to a capitalist, market driven economy, through large-scale privatisation and attacks on social rights, while still sometimes talking of ‘market socialism’. This was the point at which Gorbachev himself crossed the Rubicon and became an advocate of capitalist restoration. But getting the conditions in place to implement this dragged on through 1991. Yelstin was the former head of the Moscow Communist Party, and from 1990 an openly bourgeois politician outside the CPSU. Yelstin gained the Presidency of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, which as the Russian Federation, became the core successor state to the USSR after the counterrevolution.

The collapse of the coup, partly in the face of civil resistance – ‘democrats’, privateers and fascists organised publicly behind Yelstin outside the Russian parliament or ‘White House’ — was followed by the public humiliation of Gorbachev for his evident weakness in the face of the coup, and by the end of the year, the formal dissolution of the USSR and Gorbachev’s resignation/redundancy as its last president. This merely formalised what happened in the immediate aftermath of the failed coup in any case, as the de facto state power became Yelstin’s Russian Federation, with many of the non-Russian republics, notably the Baltics, declaring their secession from the USSR during the coup itself, de facto disintegrating the USSR and not even waiting for Gorbachev’s proposed new union treaty (stopping which was one of the coupists’ prime motives) to see the light of day.

Imperialism’s Afghan Adventure was a Blowback from Counterrevolution

In addition to the anniversary of the Soviet collapse, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has led to the collapse of the pro-US puppet regime of Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is bound up with the counterrevolutionary collapse of the USSR. Massive US funding of a jihad against the left-nationalist, Moscow-allied People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) began in the late 1970s, and when the Soviet Union intervened in December 1979 to prevent the overthrow of the PDPA by these counterrevolutionaries, Afghanistan became a cause celebre of anti-communism. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher very publicly associated themselves with the mujahedin, the ‘holy warriors’ who were given hi-tech weaponry like Stinger missiles to fight the PDPA and USSR.

The retreat of the USSR from Afghanistan under Gorbachev was a major capitulation to imperialism and heralded the collapse of the USSR itself. Yet the PDPA regime was among the last of the USSR’s client states to fall; it did not collapse until April 1992, 6 months after the USSR collapsed. The diffuse coalition of mujahedin with some PDPA defectors was swept aside in 1996 by the youthful, austere and fanatical Taliban faction of Islamists, based in ‘refugee’ camps in Pakistan, who have politically dominated Afghanistan ever since.

The Afghanistan invasion and occupation at the end of 2001 was always a sideshow and a fig-leaf for imperialism and Zionism’s intention to take advantage of the terrorist attack the US received from Al Qaeda fighters on September 11th, 2001. The imperialists were always aware that as well as being an expression of extreme reaction with pre-capitalist, medieval origins, and social base (to a degree), Islamist movements are also capable of giving expression to popular rage against imperialist crimes. They are difficult clients that sometimes bite their patrons. The sheer scale of 9/11 was shocking to US imperialism, which undoubtedly through its intelligence agencies had some awareness of the perpetrators’ activities, but not the degree of their ambition. But irrespective of this, the effect of 9/11 was to strengthen the Zionist faction in the US ruling class which wanted to remake the Middle East in Israel’s interest, initially through the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

In that, the occupation of Afghanistan had to be maintained for a prolonged period to make some show to the Western public that something direct was being done to confront the actual home base of Al Qaeda. But it was a bipartisan exercise in hypocrisy, as there was never any Western intention to undermine the social basis of the counterrevolution they had fomented to destroy the PDPA. So, it was always pretty much inevitable that when the West finally cut their losses and withdrew from Afghanistan, it would revert to the Taliban.

Taliban Retake Afghanistan after US pulls out, August 2021

The rumours of deals with the Taliban by Trump or even Biden are highly likely to be true. The expressions of ‘shock’ by some in the West at Biden’s withdrawal and the Taliban victory are just disingenuous nonsense. So are the comparisons being made by some with the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Though many desperate Afghans may well have believed in some sort of Western good intentions, they were being cynically duped and exploited. Many now, desperately trying to escape, are not the equivalents of counterrevolutionaries fleeing the Vietnamese revolution in 1975, but victims of Western duplicity, and as refugees are targets for right-wing populists and fascists in the West. We must demand full rights of asylum and settlement in the West for all those Afghans seeking to escape. No restrictions or quotas.

All these things are simply the logic of fomenting counterrevolution in a country like Afghanistan. What may be the international role of the Taliban now the US occupation is over is an open question. Will they become a Western client state, and participate in Western attempts to sabotage the efforts of semi-colonial countries and former workers states to build infrastructure to counter dependency upon imperialism, such as the Chinese-led Belt and Road initiative in Eurasia? Or will they be drawn into this sphere of influence? There are all kinds of contradictory speculations about at the moment, and it is likely to take a bit of time before it is clear which way the situation evolves.

A flawed analysis of the counterrevolution

The collapse of the USSR was long forecast, in broad outline, by the Trotskyist movement, though the details, processes and outcome have proved to be a source of strong disagreement and division. One Trotskyist tradition that particularly stands out as making seemingly robust, but in fact problematic and ultimately false claims to have uniquely and correctly analysed the collapse of the USSR, and resisted it to the last, is the comrades of the now-splintered International Bolshevik Tendency, an ostensibly orthodox Trotskyist tendency that emerged from the Spartacists in the early 1980s, and which claimed to be the latest embodiment of a continuity of revolutionary tradition derived from them.

Confusingly, the group that is now using the name ‘International Bolshevik Tendency’ is based centrally in New Zealand, with a smattering of supporters elsewhere. Its best-known leader is Bill Logan. They insist that post-Soviet Russia is now a rival imperialist power to the US. Whereas the other main wing of the IBT, whose best-known leader is Tom Riley, based in North America but also with supporters elsewhere, and which now just calls itself the ‘Bolshevik Tendency’, insists correctly that Russia represents a relatively backward, dependent form of capitalism, that should be defended against imperialism along with other semi-colonial countries. But both agree that China is still a deformed workers state and make a great show of criticising those on the left who refuse to defend it again a supposed danger of capitalist restoration.

The starting point for this is their common position on the August coup of 1991. They correctly berate the bulk of the pseudo-Trotskyist left internationally who sided with Yeltsin against the coup-plotters as basically siding with the clarified, consistent advocates of the capitalist destruction of the USSR:

“In the weeks following the failed coup attempt of 19‐21 August, the International Bolshevik Tendency was virtually alone among self-proclaimed Trotskyists in recognizing that this event marked the end of the Soviet workers state. Every major political development has since confirmed our view. … The major political institutions of the Soviet state could be dismantled without armed resistance because the fate of the USSR had already been decided. The post-coup developments were a mere epilogue to the three days in August when the demoralized defenders of the old Stalinist apparatus made and lost their last desperate gamble.

“The success of the coup plotters would have represented an obstacle, however temporary and insubstantial, to the victory of the restorationists now in power. It was therefore the duty of those who defended the Soviet Union against capitalist restoration to side with the coup leaders against Yeltsin, without offering them any political support. Yet, to our knowledge, every other tendency purporting to be Trotskyist failed this last test of Soviet defensism. Most sided with the forces gathered around Yeltsin in the name of democracy. Others were neutral. To excuse their failure, many of these groups now find it expedient to play down the significance of Yeltsin’s August victory.”

1917 no 11, Soviet Rubicon and the Left, third quarter 1992

This is no doubt correct, at least as a criticism of the pseudo-Trotskyists. It was indeed scandalous that the bulk of the ‘Trotskyist’ left actually applauded and sided with the consistent advocates of rapid capitalist restoration and overt subordination of the USSR to imperialism. The IBT are quite rightly scathing about this. However, despite this position, the IBT still managed to fragment with major disagreements about questions derived from the outcome of the counterrevolution. Quite correctly they wrote in the aftermath of Yeltsin’ victory:

“On what terms will Russia and the other republics join the imperialist ’family of nations’? The productivity of Soviet labor has always lagged far behind that of advanced capitalist countries. The products of Soviet industry simply can’t compete in price or quality with Western goods. Western capitalists are reluctant to invest even in Poland and the former DDR, whose industrial plant is more advanced than Russia’s. Russian and Ukrainian industries are even less likely to find foreign buyers. Aspiring Russian ’entrepreneurs’ cannot simply take over existing state industries and start making money. To become competitive internationally, most Soviet enterprises would require massive retooling and upgrading, and that can only be financed from abroad. The imperialist giants, locked in ever intensifying economic rivalries with one another, are not about to underwrite the development of a major new competitor. The total ‘aid’ earmarked for the former Soviet Union so far is only a fraction of what the imperialists spent each year preparing to wage war on the ‘evil empire.’ The assistance they are providing is only enough to help Yeltsin keep a lid on his unruly population. There will be no latter-day Marshall Plan.

The lands that once made up the USSR are not without value to the predators of Wall Street and the Frankfurt bourse. The former Soviet Union was the world’s number-one producer of oil and timber, and its territories are also rich in minerals, metals and grain. The population is well educated even by Western standards, and is thus a huge potential market and reserve of exploitable labor. But the imperialists see the former Soviet Union chiefly as a producer of raw materials and agricultural products and a consumer of the finished goods of the U.S., Europe and Japan. The deindustrialization which will accompany capitalist restoration will lock the various republics into a pattern of economic dependency and backwardness more typical of third-world countries than the developed capitalist world.

The former Soviet Union, however, is no third-world country. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 tore the former czarist empire out of the imperialist orbit and laid the foundations for transforming it from a backward, largely peasant nation into a major industrial power. At the time of the revolution, over 80 percent of the Soviet population lived in the countryside; today, more than 60 percent are city dwellers.

The reintegration of the Soviet Union into the international capitalist division of labor will mean the ruin of entire economic sectors: steel, machinery, military hardware and consumer goods and the destitution of many of the tens of millions of workers whose livelihoods depend upon industry.

The states emerging from the breakup of the USSR are not likely to be reduced to third-world status without explosions of popular anger. As mass indignation at free-market ‘shock therapy’ continues to mount, Yeltsin could easily fall. He has already been forced to modify some of the harsher aspects of his economic package. Yet none of Yeltsin’s would-be successors is any less committed than he to capitalist restoration; they differ only over tactics and timing.

ibid

The correctness of this evaluation of the destiny of the territories and peoples that made up the USSR does not seem to have prevented one part of the IBT from breaking from the logic of this and concluding that Russia has somehow overcome this future of dependency and become an imperialist rival of the West. In this regard, the New Zealand centred IBT has already, in fighting supposed ‘Russian imperialism’ sided with the reactionary, Nazi-infested Maidan movement in Ukraine. This has been armed, funded and egged on by US imperialism and the EU, against Russia which has now moved away under Putin from Yeltsin’s subordination to imperialism, and has been attempting to resist the project of extending NATO deeply into the former USSR itself, an obvious continuation even despite the counterrevolution, of the imperialist policy of outright political reconquest of the former workers states. The New Zealand-based IBT has also taken a neutral position on the Syrian conflict, “As in Ukraine, Marxists have no side in the Syrian civil war or the imperialist struggle weaving through it and demand the departure of all imperialist forces from the region.” (1917 no 41, 2019)

The confusionism of the whole ex-IBT diaspora is striking. Superficially this would appear to be an empirical falling out over the further evolution of Russia over time since the counterrevolution. However, it does seem to have been the result of Russia’s break, under Putin, from overt subordination and clientelism of the West that was previously dominant under Yeltsin, to an attitude of at least partial resistance to Western incursions and offensives. The Logan-led IBT drew the conclusion from this that Putin’s Russian has overcome the devastating material handicaps the IBT earlier pointed to and become imperialist.

But much of Russia’s activities along these lines are in a bloc with China and other semi-colonial countries such as Iran and Syria to resist imperialist domination in Eurasia, a bloc that also has allies in the Americas, such as Cuba and Venezuela.  Some of these states at odds with imperialism are still deformed workers states, such as Cuba, others are ex workers’ states, such as Russia and China, while others still, such as Iran and Syria, were never workers’ states at all. However, all, wings of the ex-IBT defend China as supposedly still a deformed workers’ state, which therefore has to be defended in all conflicts with imperialism. Yet they logically must have radically different attitudes to its major international initiatives, such as the Belt and Road initiative, which hardly has anything ‘socialist’ about it, rather consisting of infrastructural development that will benefit both China and its other capitalist partners. All of which are being co-ordinated in a bloc with (to the IBT) ‘imperialist’ Russia. These contradictions make for a very confusing, contradictory mess.

A crucial ambiguity….

To explore the roots of this, it is necessary to go back to a crucial ambiguity in the IBT’s analysis of the events surrounding the collapse of the USSR. At the time, the IBT wrote:

“The barricades of August formed a dividing line between those bent on bringing back capitalism and those who wanted to slow down the market reforms and preserve, at least for a time, the social and economic status quo. Social democrats, liberals and all those who openly favored capitalist restoration had little difficulty in grasping the significance of the coup and its defeat. Pseudo-Trotskyists, however, must falsify reality to justify shirking Soviet defensism and prostrating themselves before left-liberal public opinion.”

“The struggle for power was between the Stalinist parasites who sought to preserve their host and the Yeltsinite restorationists who sought to destroy it.”

ibid

But here is the ambiguity:

“The men of the Emergency Committee were not Stalinists of the 1930s mould. Their will to act was compromised by the fact that they were demoralized enough to accept the inevitability of loosening central controls and giving market forces a wider scope. Their difference with Yeltsin was that they favored market ‘reforms’ within the overall framework of bureaucratic rule. By the time they decided to strike in defense of the beleaguered central state apparatus, it was already in such an advanced state of decay that it no longer commanded the unquestioned allegiance of the armed forces. These factors fed into each other, leading to the August debacle.”

ibid

In other words, even the IBT admit that the aim of the plotters was not to stop capitalist restoration per se, but to slow it down to maintain bureaucratic control of the process. If that is the case, then they effectively concede that it is perfectly possible for a Stalinist regime to itself preside over a process of capitalist restoration, while maintaining bureaucratic control over the process. It might well be appropriate to take a side on an issue like this because the character of such a conflict could impact on such matters as to whether the outcome of the conflict will result in the resulting regime or state being reduced to semi-colonial servitude to imperialism, or in some way resisting it. But to imply, or half-imply, that such bureaucrats are waging a real struggle against capitalist restoration, is to build illusions. Only the class-conscious proletariat can do that.

…. which besets their understanding of China

This is what happened in China, becoming definitive within around a year of the collapse of the USSR in late 1992, and what gets the ex-IBT into a terrible mess. Since the split the NZ centred IBT group do not seem to have written a great deal about China, but the North American-centred Bolshevik Tendency have produced a major polemic against those on the left who have concluded that capitalism has been restored in China.

The Bolshevik Tendency point out that Mao’s China, once it had expropriated the bourgeoisie, had basically the same contradictions as the USSR under the Stalinist regime that existed in the USSR from Stalin’s day until August 1991:

 “’Communist China’ under Mao was characterised by essentially the same contradictions that Leon Trotsky had enumerated for the USSR in his 1936 book The Revolution Betrayed:

‘The Soviet Union is a contradictory society halfway between capitalism and socialism, in which: (a) the productive forces are still far from adequate to give the state property a socialist character; (b) the tendency toward primitive accumulation created by want breaks out through innumerable pores of the planned economy; (c) norms of distribution preserving a bourgeois character lie at the basis of a new differentiation of society; (d) the economic growth, while slowly bettering the situation of the toilers, promotes a swift formation of privileged strata; (e) exploiting the social antagonisms, a bureaucracy has converted itself into an uncontrolled caste alien to socialism; (f) the social revolution, betrayed by the ruling party, still exists in property relations and in the consciousness of the toiling masses; (g) a further development of the accumulating contradictions can as well lead to socialism as back to capitalism; (h) on the road to capitalism the counterrevolution would have to break the resistance of the workers; (i) on the road to socialism the workers would have to overthrow the bureaucracy. In the last analysis, the question will be decided by a struggle of living social forces, both on the national and the world arena.”

https://bolsheviktendency.org/2020/11/06/the-myth-of-capitalist-china/

Though actually the use of this passage from Trotsky is problematic, as the relationship between the revolution ‘in the consciousness of the toiling masses” in a workers’ state that was qualitatively bureaucratically deformed since birth, as in China, and that in the USSR, which was initially a revolutionary workers state, must necessarily be different. The difference lies in the fact that the agency of the creation of the Soviet state was a class-conscious action of the proletariat led by a revolutionary vanguard party, whereas in China the state was the creation of a privileged bureaucratic caste whose main social base was the peasantry, which excluded the proletariat from political power right from the creation of the workers’ state. The consciousness of the masses in a country where a class-conscious proletariat played no role in the revolution cannot be equated with that of a country where the proletariat was the central locus of the revolution.

However, the BT go much further than this. They seek to equate the situation in China today, not under Mao, with the situation of the USSR under Stalin and his successors, and minimize the significance of the existence of a powerful bourgeoisie in today’s China:

“The single biggest factor distinguishing the Chinese economy from its advanced capitalist competitors is the central role played by the state sector—particularly in banking and strategic industries. Unlike the Soviet Union under Stalin, China has a significant private capitalist sector which accounts for a large chunk of its economy and produces most commodities for export. But the SOEs, which remain at the core of the economic and social order, do not operate according to the same principles as for-profit enterprises.”

ibid

And under the heading “China’s capitalists:  a vulnerable class”, they further argue:

“China’s economy has a significant capitalist component, unlike the Soviet economy which was virtually entirely collectivised.”

“A 2011 study by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission which estimated that China’s state sector made up at least 50 percent of the economy, failed to take into account the fact that the mixed ownership reform programme permitting private investment in SOEs did not give investors any influence over decision-making. Assigning such investment to the private sector, while technically correct, can therefore result in significantly underestimating the effective weight of state ownership.”

“It is essential to understand that despite the nominal introduction of many features of a capitalist market economy the fundamental relationships established by the 1949 Revolution have not changed. Many of the apparent changes are essentially cosmetic and introduced solely to encourage foreign investment.”

ibid

Those gullible foreign capitalist investors must have been terribly fooled by such trickery, into not understanding that no fundamental change has occurred since Mao, and the state still does not in any sense exist for their benefit and does not defend their property against the masses.

The BT admit that the figure of 50 per cent private ownership is ‘technically correct’. They do not surmise that the existence of this powerful bourgeois layer, and its evident interpenetration with the state, creates a different relationship between the state and private capital than exists in a workers’ state, deformed or otherwise. In a workers’ state, one primary function of the state is to suppress private ownership of the means of production in order to guarantee the inviolability of state property. In the Chinese situation, the state itself has a hybrid character, and the state itself and state property is being used to promote the interests of a Chinese bourgeois layer whose social weight is considerable. So, the BT say:

“Bloomberg’s 27 February 2012 online edition estimated the net worth of the 70 wealthiest delegates to the CCP’s National Peoples’ Congress as $89.9 billion. While they undoubtedly favour taking ‘market reform’ all the way to outright capitalist restoration, they are also very aware, unlike the IMT, SEP and sundry other leftist impressionists, that China has yet to undergo a social counterrevolution.”

ibid

So, the 70 wealthiest delegates at the CCP’s National People’s Congress were, on average, dollar billionaires. Well money talks. Why should these billionaires need a ‘social counterrevolution’ if they have enriched themselves to the point of becoming dollar billionaires under the supposed dictatorship of the proletariat? It is obvious that it is the regime of the CCP that has enriched them. Even if they have to sacrifice some of the prerogatives of capitalists in the ‘free world’ and abide by what may seem like a more draconian form of state regulation, that is being done for their benefit, for the promotion of the interests of Chinese capital, and it certainly has brought them large fortunes. It has also, to a degree, protected their profitability and fortunes from some of the bankruptcies that have afflicted some sections of capital in the older capitalist countries. Maybe, like the Western bourgeoisie in the 1970s, some future fall in profits may cause them to complain about the burden of state regulation and seek a more complete, neoliberal privatisation of the economy, but they seem to be doing pretty well out of this setup at the moment. Chinese capital is doing well out of this arrangement, and as long as this is the case it has no reason for them to seek to change it.

In putting forward the thesis that today’s powerful Chinese bourgeoisie, the massive beneficiary of state largesse, is a ‘vulnerable class’ and thus perpetually on the edge of extinction, the BT asserts:

“The legal status of private capital—particularly domestic capital—is not clearly defined. Xi’s on-going anti-corruption campaign, which served to simultaneously mobilise popular support while eliminating or intimidating potential factional opponents, signalled that domestic capitalists transgressing ground rules laid down by the party do so at considerable risk. Xi explicitly identified his campaign to reign in bureaucrats flaunting ill-gotten gains with Mao’s ‘tigers and flies’ anti-corruption drive of the mid-1950s”

ibid

But the fundamental purpose of Mao’s campaigns had a different content and objectives. Mao’s purges were of bureaucrats who acted outside the framework of the specific polices of Mao’s faction of the bureaucracy in the regime that he dominated, which had decided that for reasons of its own self-preservation that the national bourgeoisie had to be suppressed and its property expropriated.

Xi, who is acting in a manner somewhat analogous to a social-democratic or perhaps liberal populist politician in the post-WWII period of ‘welfare capitalism’ that preceded neoliberalism in the advanced capitalist world, is merely threatening with punishment for corruption capitalists who transgress the rules of a project that uses the state for a project whose objective is to enrich the ‘vulnerable’ new Chinese bourgeoisie that has considerably enhanced its wealth under this capitalist arrangement.

Absurdly, the BT say that:

“Xi plays essentially the same role in China today as Stalin did in the Soviet Union:”

ibid

And then quote Trotsky to elaborate on what they mean

““The function of Stalin…has a dual character. Stalin serves the bureaucracy and thus the world bourgeoisie; but he cannot serve the bureaucracy without defending that social foundation which the bureaucracy exploits in its own interests. To that extent does Stalin defend nationalized property from imperialist attacks and from the too impatient and avaricious layers of the bureaucracy itself. However, he carries through this defence with methods that prepare the general destruction of Soviet society. It is exactly because of this that the Stalinist clique must be overthrown. The proletariat cannot subcontract this work to the imperialists. In spite of Stalin, the proletariat defends the USSR from imperialist attacks.”

ibid

But Xi is not defending ‘state property’ per se as is evident from the above. He is defending Chinese capital, and the new Chinese bourgeoisie, and a hybrid project that makes use of elements of the state apparatus that were inherited from a deformed workers state to promote the accumulation of profit and thus capital, in the hands of this new Chinese bourgeoisie. This project has been highly successful and has enabled this post-Maoist form of Chinese capital to resist the semi-colonial subordination of China to neoliberalism, which is the concrete expression of imperialism today, and even to provide aid to other non-imperialist bourgeois states in backward countries like Syria and Venezuela, among others, to resist imperialism’s war drive, economic sanctions, proxy, and hybrid wars. 

The BT conclude by issuing their own warning about the danger of promoting illusions in what they still insist is Chinese Stalinism:

“The CCP’s recent moves to strengthen the state sector no more signify some sort of revolutionary regeneration than Xi’s anti-corruption campaign was aimed at transforming the bureaucracy into a cadre of revolutionary communists. The CCP remains a historically unstable, contradictory and transient formation which can only maintain its privileged position by suppressing any form of independent working-class political expression or dissent. A transition to a genuinely socialist society is only possible through working people ousting the CCP bureaucrats and establishing their own direct political rule.

“Only the programme of ‘permanent revolution,’ based on recognising the necessity to establish workers’ power in every country on the planet, can provide a coherent alternative to the Stalinist/Maoist programme of ‘socialism in one country,’ which is premised on the illusion of a permanent reconciliation with international capital. To open the road to socialism Chinese workers must create a new revolutionary party based on the internationalist programme of the early revolutionary Communist International in the time of Lenin and Trotsky.”

ibid

This is all very well, but Xi is not engaged in building ‘socialism in one country’, but a post-Maoist programme of building Chinese capitalism, using a hybrid state-private capitalist model that aims to build a counterweight to Western imperialist domination including by aiding other semi-colonial nations to resist imperialist domination. This is in fact a logical extension of Stalinism’s illusions of building ‘socialism in one country’ when the Stalinist apparatus loses confidence in its ability to defend economic planning. It’s a new utopia, effectively of ‘capitalism in one country’ built as an alternative to imperialist domination. It also dovetails somewhat with the retreat of the still-infant bourgeois regime in Russia under Putin from subordination to neoliberalism and imperialism, and its efforts to combat outright imperialist domination from Ukraine and Syria. This does involve a new variant of the social democratic worldview, which is where the labour reformist features that the BT point to in their study of China actually come from.

A denial of reality, and its facets

The ex-IBT trends as a whole have a big problem with this. Recognition of elements of this reality led the New Zealand centred part of this trend to flip over to characterising Russia as imperialist. It does appear that the denial of the capitalist character of China by both wings is based on the fear that if they recognise reality, they will capitulate and conclude that China, too is imperialist, a position that leads into the social-imperialist camp. So, they deny reality, in a manner analogous, though in reverse, to the denial of reality by the Healy tendency in refusing to accept that a deformed workers state had been established in Cuba after 1960. The Healy tendency did this because they feared that if they accepted the Cuban revolution as real, they would become Hansen-like cheerleaders for Castroism. The ex-IBT trends fear that if they accept that capitalist restoration in China has taken place, they will become pro-imperialist third-campist types. Indeed, this has partially happened to the New Zealand centred IBT over its position that Russia is ‘imperialist’. But somewhat eccentrically, they continue to insist that China is a workers’ state that must be defended against counterrevolution despite many of its initiatives being closely coordinated with ‘imperialist’ Russia.

This contradictory mess is a result of the flaws of the IBT tradition itself. It is necessary to defend the powerful but still dependant capitalist states in Russia and China against imperialism without promoting illusions that there is something socialist about them, any more than with Iran or Venezuela.  That is the conclusion that consistent Trotskyists need to draw from the current situation.

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