This article originally appeared in the Bulletin on August 19, 1988
In the wake of the May Reagan-Gorbachev Moscow summit, the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy has dropped even the pretense that its foreign policy has anything to do with furthering the advance of socialism internationally or aiding the liberation struggles of the oppressed masses of the former colonial countries.
Instead, top officials in Gorbachev’s ruling clique have advanced pseudo-theoretical arguments explaining that the international class struggle has been “transcended.” while in virtually every corner of the globe the Soviet Stalinists are working hand in glove with Washington to bring about reactionary “peace” settlements which secure the interests of imperialism at the expense of the masses.
This has led in recent weeks to a whirlwind of Stalinist-imperialist diplomatic horse-trading. Among the most recent developments are the following:
A cease-fire accord was signed in Geneva between Angola, Cuba, South Africa and the United States, with the Soviet Union acting as an “unofficial observer.” As part of the agreement, Angola and South Africa have adopted a “nonaggression” pact under which Angola will undertake the closing down of all guerrilla bases of the African National Congress and the South West African People’s Organization on its soil, thereby completing a cordon sanitaire from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, which has been established with the collaboration of the bourgeois regimes of the so-called Front Line states.
After the agreement, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Adamishin (who said he remained in constant touch with the chairman of the talks, US Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker) issued a public statement calling on the Angolan government to enter into direct talks with the CIA-organized and South African-financed counterrevolutionaries of UNITA, led by Jonas Savimbi. Given that the Angolan government depends on an estimated $1 billion in Soviet aid a year, such a statement amounts to direct blackmail.
In commenting on these talks, Adamishin declared that “it was an opinion that we couldn’t do anything in this area while apartheid remains in South Africa. However, we now accept the need for partial solutions.” In other words, the Soviet bureaucracy now openly acts as a prop for the strategic interests of US imperialism and the white racist regime in southern Africa.
Playing a key role in this sordid deal was the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro. While Castro has claimed that Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika have no place in Cuba, on the issue of collaboration with Yankee imperialism, there is no disagreement whatsoever.
The Soviets are standing behind US-backed negotiations for a Vietnamese withdrawal from Kampuchea and the establishment of a bourgeois coalition government which would include elements of the genocidal Pol Pot regime, as well as Prince Sihanouk.
In Afghanistan, the Soviet bureaucracy has reached the halfway point in its withdrawal of an estimated 100,000 troops, which propped up the regime in Kabul. After sacrificing over 13,000 dead and 35,000 wounded Red Army soldiers, the Moscow Stalinists have succeeded only in alienating the oppressed masses throughout the region through its criminal military intervention. Now, in the interests of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism, it is cynically abandoning the regime it installed in Kabul to its fate, as cities begin to fall to the CIA-funded Mujahadeen.
As well, there are indications of growing pressure from Moscow on both the Palestine Liberation Organization and Nicaragua’s Sandinistas to further accommodate themselves to US demands.
In the midst of these developments, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze delivered a speech last month to a conference of Soviet foreign policy specialists in which he declared: “The struggle between two opposing systems is no longer a determining tendency of the present era.” Instead, he said, “peaceful coexistence,” the collaboration of the Soviet bureaucracy and imperialism, should not be viewed as a tactic within the international class struggle, but rather having replaced that struggle. Such problems as war, ecological disasters and the grinding poverty of the vast majority of the world’s population have nothing whatsoever to do with the continued survival of capitalism, the Soviet foreign minister declared, and would be resolved only through collaboration between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the imperialists.
Shevardnadze was only reformulating the basic position which has been advanced by the Gorbachev bureaucracy. Gorbachev himself, in his book Perestroika, declared his belief in “the priority of interests common to all humanity over class interests.”
And, at the beginning of this month, Moscow News, one of the principal mouthpieces for Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika, published a “poll” of Soviet diplomats and foreign policy experts, in which fully half declared that they did not see US imperialism as a threat; and a whopping 77% rejected the conception that the Soviet Union has any interest whatsoever in spreading socialism internationally.
Of course, Stalinism rejected the perspective of world revolution more than half a century ago (it was then that Stalin described the Marxist program of world revolution as “a misunderstanding”), having made the retrograde theory of “socialism in one country” and its corollary “peaceful coexistence with imperialism” the foundation of its counterrevolutionary international policy.
Nonetheless, even after the formal disbanding of the Communist International and the embrace of “democratic” imperialism during World War II, the Moscow bureaucracy periodically found it useful to identify its policies with the struggle for socialism and national liberation internationally. This posturing served, on the one hand, to deceive the international working class and provide a bargaining chip for the bureaucracy’s deals with imperialism, and, on the other, to justify its bureaucratic dictatorship over the Soviet and Eastern European workers, on the grounds that internal repression was required to defend the “socialist fatherland” against the external threat from the imperialists.
The present rush by the Stalinist bureaucracy to renounce any connection between the Soviet Union and the revolutionary struggle against imperialism, and to declare imperialism an essentially benign actor on the world arena, has profound implications.
Objectively, there is no greater danger to the Soviet workers’ state than the Moscow bureaucracy’s reactionary position that there is no inherent conflict between the Soviet Union and imperialism and no connection between it and the struggles of the working class internationally.
In essence, the Gorbachev bureaucracy is defining the USSR in strictly bourgeois terms, i.e., as just another nation-state, with its own independent interests to defend. But if that were the case—which it is not—what interest would workers anywhere in the world have in bothering themselves with the fate of the Soviet Union? Why would workers be obliged to defend the USSR more than any other state?
An additional question is posed by the Kremlin’s denial of any inherent conflict between the Soviet Union and imperialism: what is the rationale for the continued existence of the so-called Communist parties in the West, which for the last half century have justified their role as political lackies of the gangsters in the Kremlin by fraudulently equating defense of the Stalinist bureaucracy with defense of the Soviet Union against imperialism?
The bureaucracy’s innovations in the field of foreign policy have made absolutely clear that today only the Trotskyist movement, the Fourth International, defends the nationalized property relations and planned economy of the Soviet Union as the conquest not only of the Russian, but the world proletariat. It alone carries forward the defense of the USSR against imperialism, because its entire history embodies the defense of the perspective of world socialist revolution upon which the October 1917 Revolution was based.
Underlying the desire of the Gorbachev wing of the bureaucracy to disassociate itself publicly with the struggles of the working class against imperialism is the profound crisis of Stalinism. The deepening collaboration of the Soviet bureaucracy with imperialism internationally is bound up with its attempt to integrate the Soviet economy into the capitalist world market and restore capitalist relations within the USSR.
But this is inevitably bringing the bureaucracy into a head-on collision with the Soviet working class, provoking sharp divisions within the bureaucracy between various factions, all of which are part of the same counterrevolutionary parasitic caste.
This crisis was clearly expressed in a July 29 speech by Yegor Ligachev, the second-ranking Kremlin Stalinist, and a periodic critic of some aspects of Gorbachev’s “reforms.” In an apparent direct criticism of Shevardnadze’s statement, he declared: “One must not identify coexistence ... with the class struggle. We proceed from the class character of international relations. Raising the question in any other way only confuses the minds of the Soviet people and our friends abroad.”
In the same breath, he denounced those who are “seeking to resolve emerging problems by strikes” and warned against copying the “capitalist market ... with its ruthless laws of chronic unemployment.”
Ligachev is not known for his pronouncements on Soviet foreign policy and has expressed no disagreement whatsoever with Moscow’s policy of counterrevolutionary collaboration with US imperialism. His disquiet over the brazen statements of Shevardnadze and Gorbachev arises from the fear that such pronouncements are undercutting any claims by the bureaucracy that it serves a legitimate function in defending the nationalized property and planned economy, the main conquests of the October Revolution.
In his monumental work The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky wrote that the bureaucracy’s ability to maintain power was due not only to its savage repression and extermination of the revolutionary Marxists of the Left Opposition. Another factor was that the workers themselves “fear lest, in throwing out the bureaucracy, they will open the way for a capitalist restoration.”
Despite their hatred for the bureaucracy, Trotsky wrote, the workers “see in it the watchman for the time being of a certain part of their own conquests. They will inevitably drive out the dishonest, impudent and unreliable watchman as soon as they see another possibility. For this it is necessary that in the West or the East another revolutionary dawn arise.”
Instinctively Ligachev responds to what he knows is a fundamental threat to the bureaucracy’s claim to legitimacy. If, as Gorbachev and Shevardnadze maintain, imperialism is no longer a threat and the international class struggle is no longer the driving force of world politics, then on what basis can the Kremlin justify its monopoly of political power, its repression of internal political opposition and its crushing of any independent movement of the Soviet working class?
From the blood purges of the 1930s to the martial law crackdown against the Polish Solidarity movement, the Stalinists have justified every act of repression on the grounds that they were combating the “agents of imperialism” or the “class enemy” within the workers’ state. But today’s official position of the CPSU, that the class struggle has no relevance and imperialism is no threat, exposes every such act by the bureaucracy as a naked defense of its own extensive caste privileges against the working class.
Moreover, having embraced the methods of the capitalist market as superior to those of the planned economy, the bureaucracy can no longer posture as the “watchman” of the conquests of the October 1917 revolution. Quite the opposite, it stands exposed as the chief agent of imperialism within the workers’ state and the main instrument for capitalist restoration in the USSR.
There are no principled differences between the Gorbachev and Ligachev wings of the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy. Each is driven by its fear of the working class and its desperate defense of its privileges. Both are determined that the resolution of the crisis created by decades of Soviet economic autarchy and bureaucratic abuse is to be resolved not through the extension of the October Revolution internationally and the development of a scientifically planned world socialist economy, but rather through the integration of the USSR into the capitalist world market. And, both fully back the counterrevolutionary collaboration of the Kremlin and imperialism from Palestine, to Central America, to southern Africa.
Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika represents the most consistent expression of the powerful capitalist restorationist tendencies within the bureaucracy as a whole.
At the same time, however, the speed with which the sweeping attack has been launched on the planned economy and nationalized property within the Soviet Union has thrown sections of the bureaucracy into deep crisis, opening up fissures in its ranks.
In the state ministries and departments, the moves to place private property on an equal legal footing with state enterprises, the scrapping of large sections of the planning apparatus and the loosening of the monopoly of foreign trade have the side effect of undermining the power and privilege of substantial layers of the bureaucracy itself. In giving voice to their fears, Ligachev is defending not the gains of October, but rather the bureaucratic plundering of the economy by the revolution’s Stalinist gravediggers.
The Soviet working class will draw its own conclusions from the inter-bureaucratic struggle. Having passed since 1917 through the civil war and invasion by 17 imperialist-organized armies and then the Nazi invasion, in which 20 million Soviets gave their lives defending the gains of their revolution, this working class will not be so quick to accept the absurd Stalinist contention that imperialism no longer represents a threat to the Soviet Union.
As for those like Ligachev who come forward to pose as defenders of the doctrine of the class struggle, while demanding the ruthless repression of any strike activity, the Soviet workers are already well-acquainted with this brand of pseudo-Marxist philistinism, which the bureaucracy has used since its origins to mask its true social being as a parasitic and counterrevolutionary growth on the workers’ state.
Moreover, the Gorbachev bureaucracy is denying the class struggle and proclaiming imperialism’s benevolence just as the historic crisis of capitalism is preparing an explosion of the class struggle internationally, which will create revolutionary conditions, including in the major imperialist centers.
The Soviet workers, 100 million strong, will confront the bureaucracy’s attempts to wipe out the gains won in the October Revolution, reintroduce unemployment, inflation and capitalist exploitation, as masses of workers in the West and in the countries oppressed by imperialism are being driven onto the road of socialist revolution. The political revolution which the Soviet workers must carry out to defend the gains of October against the capitalist restorationist policies of perestroika will be a vital component of the world socialist revolution. Its victory requires above all that a party be built in the USSR based on the revolutionary internationalist program of Trotskyism, as a section of the International Committee of the Fourth International.