David North
Perestroika versus Socialism: Stalinism and the Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR

Capitalist Restoration or Political Revolution: Where is the USSR Going?

There is nothing new in Vadim Medvedev’s assertion that Lenin originated the theory of peaceful coexistence. This historical falsification has been maintained by the Stalinists for more than a half-century. But Medvedev went further and indicted Gorbachev’s predecessors for failing to apply this theory with sufficient consistency. He claimed that Lenin’s conception of peaceful coexistence “was distorted” by Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev.

“The view prevailed that the only aim of peaceful coexistence was to postpone the inevitable war with the capitalist world.... Even after 1956 when a number of Stalinist concepts were rejected and a new phase was proclaimed in the relation between the socialist countries and their ties with the capitalist world, even when the fatalist thesis that war was inevitable was abandoned, the prevailing view was that peaceful coexistence was not for long” (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, 15 February 1989).

The Soviet government has repudiated this restricted conception of peaceful coexistence. It is now viewed “as a long-term process whose time limits are hard to define.” Medvedev attempted to justify this evaluation of the infinite potential of peaceful coexistence by citing “significant changes” in the nature of contemporary capitalism.

“Capitalism has learned how to ease class antagonisms, use elements of planning in economic development and coordinate efforts not only at a regional level (Western Europe) but also within the capitalist world as a whole.

“Capitalism has made up for the losses resulting from the creation of the world socialist system. It has survived the collapse of the colonial system by using various forms of neo-colonialist dependence and drawing the majority of newly independent countries into its economic system. Monopoly capitalism has existed for more than a hundred years. It has assumed the character of state monopolism and becomes increasingly internationalized. It has found the resources for continued scientific and technological progress.”

It may come as a surprise to the Politburo member in charge of “ideology,” but his discoveries are not quite as original as he might imagine. More than 90 years have passed since the well-known founder of revisionism, Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932), presented his findings in that “classic” of anti-Marxism, Evolutionary Socialism, Those interested in the ideological roots of Medvedev’s ruminations on the adaptability of capitalism should consult that work. There, they will find Bernstein’s observations on the supposedly benevolent effect of technological advances and the international coordination of production by cartels. Basing himself on the research of the German bourgeois economist Schulze-Gaevernitz (1864-1943), Bernstein argued that class antagonisms must diminish as capitalism is transformed via gradual reforms into a kinder and gentler society.

If Mr. Medvedev consults the librarians of the Marx-Engels- Lenin Institute in Moscow, they will probably be able to direct his attention to the relevant works of G. Plekhanov, not to mention those of V. Lenin and R. Luxemburg, where these old-fashioned revisionist platitudes are effectively demolished. However, the theoretical rebuttal of Bernstein was long ago superseded by the concrete historical refutation of his prognostications. The wars, revolutions, depressions and fascism of the twentieth century answered the utopian speculations of Bernstein more effectively than any Marxist theoretician.

With respect to Bernstein, one can understand how the social and political environment of the late nineteenth century—the triumphant heyday of bourgeois civilization which saw a significant improvement in the living conditions of the Western European working class—provided considerable empirical material for the development of erroneous reformist conceptions. In those days, the anti-Marxists who claimed that capitalism “has learned how to ease class antagonisms” had a very definite program in mind: social reformism. However, the crisis of world capitalism has destroyed the viability of that program. Concessions formerly granted by the bourgeoisie in the interests of “class peace” are being withdrawn. The proletariat’s wage levels and living standards continue to fall sharply. Trade union membership in the United States and Europe has also suffered a drastic decline. The European and American bourgeoisie have resorted to open strikebreaking on a scale unseen since the end of World War II. For Medvedev to speak today of the lessening of class antagonisms under capitalism demonstrates that he is not only unoriginal and ignorant of the lessons of history, but also blind to the most obvious features of contemporary capitalist society!

Medvedev simply declared that capitalism “has made up for losses” arising from the October Revolution and that it “has survived the collapse of the colonial system....” He did not mention, let alone explain, the decisive contribution of Stalinist treachery to this survival. This is one aspect of Stalinism that all the political heirs of Stalin in the leadership of the Soviet bureaucracy never care to discuss. But neither the survival of capitalism as a world system nor the evolution of the USSR can be explained apart from the betrayals of the international proletariat which arose out of the nationalist perspective of socialism in one country.

Summing up the significance of perestroika for Soviet foreign policy, Medvedev proclaimed peaceful coexistence to be a universal and eternal principle that transcends the class struggle.

“It is no longer true that socialism and capitalism can develop independently from each other (parallel existence). Being part of one human civilization, they can’t help but cooperate with each other. In fact, this is dialectics, which includes not only the struggle of opposites but also their unity, which finds its expression in this contradictory but increasingly interdependent world.”

Presumably, socialism and capitalism were always part of one human civilization; so it is not clear why this mundane fact is cited as the reason why it is “no longer” true that they can develop separately. Aside from this howling absurdity, what Medvedev presents is not dialectics but sophistry, since the “unity of opposites”—i.e., of socialism and capitalism, of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie—is proclaimed as a justification for the repudiation of the historical laws of the class struggle. Medvedev, like all official Kremlin “ideologists,” invokes pseudo-Marxist phraseology only as a cover for the most grotesque debasement of its scientific conceptions. In this case, dialectics—which Herzen once called the algebra of revolution—is falsified in the interests of petty reformist calculations.

Contradiction, the essence of the internal motion and development of all phenomena, is depicted by Marxists as the unity, conflict, interpenetration and transformation of opposites. These are not, as formal logic would suggest, isolated and separate stages of interaction between different phenomena—i.e., first “unity,” then “conflict,” then “interpenetration,” and finally “transformation,”—but constitute in their interconnected totality the nature of all moments in the existence of every phenomenon. In its understanding of the phenomena of the objective world, dialectical cognition does not counterpose the “unity of opposites” to the “conflict of opposites,” for such a distinction is metaphysical.

The very expression “unity of opposites” implies the theoretical recognition that every phenomena is composed of different elements that exist in a relationship of mutually antagonistic interdependence. Marxism, as a method of scientific analysis, strives to discover those complex interconnections that constitute the essential nature of all phenomena of nature, society and consciousness.[1]

Historical materialism, which is the application of dialectics to the study of social development, has scientifically explained how the “unity” of the capitalist and worker in the process of production is the objective foundation for the class struggle. But reformism, which is by its very nature totally hostile to dialectics, deduces from “unity” of the two class opposites an “identity” of interests! Medvedev follows exactly the same procedure, proclaiming that the interconnection between the Soviet Union and the United States and other capitalist countries in “one human civilization” negates the essential and irreconcilable contradiction between world imperialism and the first workers’ state.

The idea that the essential content of relations between imperialism and the Soviet Union is determined by the subjective attitudes of the political leaders of the different states—i.e., their desire for or hostility to “cooperation” and “peace”—ignores the far more fundamental objective economic factors. Evaluated from the standpoint of its theoretical underpinnings, this subjective and fundamentally reactionary approach is based on the same metaphysical conceptions that have guided the policies of the Soviet bureaucracy since Stalin and Bukharin first advanced the perspective of building socialism in one country.

The Stalinist conception of a self-sufficient national socialism rejects the existence of a single world economy. Instead, it posits two independent economic blocs, one capitalist, the other socialist, each developing separately in accordance with its own laws. This conception does not rule out different forms of economic intercourse and cooperation. Indeed, even prior to Gorbachev, there have been many occasions, especially under Brezhnev, when the USSR has pursued trade relations quite aggressively. However, such relations have been approached as if the issue of the economic interaction between the capitalist market and the Soviet Union were merely a question of external relations between two essentially unconnected economic blocs. The real, objective, ground of the interconnection between the Soviet Union and the capitalist countries is not an abstractly defined “human civilization” but the world economy and the international division of labor, whose character is still determined overwhelmingly by the capitalist mode of production. This immense and complicated mechanism does not recognize the existence of any impenetrable Chinese wall between the capitalist and “socialist” world. In reality, all the distortions within the Soviet economy reflect the massive pressure exerted against it by the capitalist world market. The shut-in character of Soviet economy does not arise from the application of socialist principles. Except in a few highly specialized areas, commodities produced in the USSR would do poorly on the capitalist world market. Without the existence of extraordinary state forms of protection, Soviet industry would be devastated by the inundation of cheap commodities produced by capitalist countries.

The crisis of the Soviet economy—reflected in the backward state of agriculture, the shortages of vital consumer goods, the serious lag in integrated circuit and computer technology—has discredited the Stalinist conception of national self-sufficiency. Gorbachev and his associates are forced to concede the necessity of expanding the economic relations between the USSR and the capitalist countries in order to obtain access to the resources of the world market. However, the Kremlin bureaucrats attempt to conceal from the Soviet working class the drastic economic and social implications of their policies by maintaining the old Stalinist fiction of two distinct and internally independent economic blocs. Thus, Medvedev claimed that economic relations with the capitalist bloc will have no fundamental impact on the “socialist” program of the USSR. He assured the readers of Kommunist:

“This is not convergence, of course. The two systems cannot merge. Each will continue to develop according to its own laws. Moreover, competition between them continues, but continues through cooperation, during which the sides study each other’s values and ability to tackle not only their own problems but also the acute problems that face human civilization as a whole” (Current Digest, 15 February 1989).

It is hardly necessary for us to speculate as to whether Medvedev’s remarks represent economic ignorance or political deceit. But from the standpoint of science, Medvedev’s remarks are worthless. In considering the position of the USSR in the world economy, the essential question is how the Soviet Union will break out of the economic isolation imposed upon it by the capitalist world market. Only two methods are possible: the forging of a revolutionary alliance with the international proletariat in the struggle against world imperialism, or the integration of the USSR into the existing economic structures of world capitalism. The first route is that of the world socialist revolution; the second is that of capitalist restoration in the USSR. It is the second course that is being followed by Gorbachev.

Only the most dishonest and dull-witted apologists for the Kremlin bureaucrats will claim that Gorbachev’s drive for close economic relations with imperialism will have no impact on Soviet property relations. Measures already enacted into law have virtually destroyed the monopoly of foreign trade and established a legal basis for direct economic relations between imperialist concerns and privately-owned cooperatives in the USSR.

As of January 1, 1989, all Soviet enterprises, associations and production cooperatives were granted the right to engage directly in import-export operations. According to the text of a Council of Ministers resolution published last December in Izvestia, “Enterprises, associations, production cooperatives, and other organizations may carry out export-import operations directly by creating, when necessary, foreign trade firms operating on the basis of economic accountability, or they may work through other foreign economic organizations on a contractual basis; in doing so, they are to be guided by the objective of obtaining the best possible export-import conditions and operating on a cost-recovery and self-financing basis in terms of foreign exchange, and they are to proceed on the principle that the state is not responsible for their obligations” (Current Digest, 25 January 1989).

New legislation has been drawn up to create special economic zones, similar to those set up in China, in which the economy will be run on entirely capitalist lines. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the new laws will permit 100 percent foreign capitalist ownership of enterprises in the economic zone. One of the zones will be located north of Leningrad, near the Finnish border.

The creation of a new infrastructure in these zones—roads, housing, telecommunications, etc.—will be entrusted to development corporations organized on a capitalist basis with the participation of imperialist shareholders. Furthermore, in order to guarantee the repatriation of profits in hard currency, Abel Aganbegyan, one of Gorbachev’s chief economic advisers, is urging that a second, fully-convertible, Soviet currency be created, backed by the nation’s gold and currency reserve. Thus, the value of the workers’ nonconvertible rubles would be reduced rapidly to virtually nothing, while the new class of Soviet entrepreneurs would have at their disposal a real convertible currency that would link them directly to the world capitalist market and the international bourgeoisie. As Dmitri A. Besurnikov of the Soviet State Foreign Economic Commission told the Wall Street Journal, “We want our businessmen to start speaking the same language as your businessmen.”

The distinctive features of the new Soviet foreign policy are the unconditional repudiation of international socialism as a long-term goal of Soviet policy, the renunciation of any political solidarity between the Soviet Union and anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world, and the explicit rejection of the class struggle as a relevant factor in the formulation of foreign policy. The changes in Soviet foreign policy are inseparably bound up with the on-going integration of the economy into the structure of world capitalism. The economic goals of the Kremlin require that the Soviet Union emphatically and unconditionally renounce any lingering association between its foreign policy and the class struggle and anti-imperialism in any form. It was for this reason that Gorbachev chose the United Nations as the forum for his declaration last December that the October Revolution of 1917, like the French Revolution of 1789, belongs to another historical era and is irrelevant to the modern world.

Articles appear regularly in the Soviet press denouncing the foreign policy of previous Kremlin leaders not for their betrayal of the interests of the international proletariat, but for having been far too hostile to the United States. To the extent that Soviet foreign policy reflected any antagonism toward imperialism, it is ridiculed as a form of political irrationalism. The outbreak of the Cold War is now attributed not to imperialist aggression, but to the USSR’s adherence to a dogmatic anticapitalist ideology. A typical example of perestroika in foreign policy is a recent article by Andrei V. Kozyrev, the deputy chief of the International Organizations Administration in the Soviet Foreign Ministry.

“By pursuing the logic of anti-imperialist struggle, we allowed ourselves—contrary to the interests of the fatherland—to be drawn into the arms race, and helped to set up technological and cultural barriers between the Soviet Union and the United States. Matters were also complicated by ‘questions of principle,’ which must be answered once and for all” (Pravda International, vol. 3, no. 3).

First, Kozyrev insisted, the USSR must repudiate old- fashioned notions about imperialist militarism.

“If,” he wrote, “one takes a look at the United States’ monopolist bourgeoisie as a whole, very few of its groups, and none of the main ones, are connected with militarism. There is no longer any need to talk, for instance, about a military struggle for markets or raw materials, or for the division and redivision of the world” (Ibid.).

This means, presumably, that Lenin’s work on Imperialism can be consigned to the trash can! One cannot help but note that Kozyrev’s faith in the pacific nature of modern-day capitalism comes at a time when the interimperialist struggle for markets and raw materials is more intense than at any time since the eve of World War II. The fracturing of the world economy into gigantic and hostile trade blocs—that of North America, Western Europe and East Asia—is an economic phenomenon that is arousing alarm among many bourgeois economists. And while the Kremlin bureaucrats may find Lenin’s view of imperialism irrelevant, serious bourgeois economists are studying his writings with renewed respect and wonder whether his revolutionary prophecies will be fulfilled.[2]

Another damaging fallacy, according to Kozyrev, is the idea that the problems of the USSR are in any way connected to the existence of world imperialism.

“None of the classes or strata of Soviet society are subject to exploitation from foreign capital, and thus none of them can solve the fundamental problems facing it by means of a ‘struggle against imperialism’” (Ibid.).

More is involved in this statement than dull repetition of the old Stalinist claim, with which we have already dealt, that the Soviet economy develops independently of the world capitalist market. In the context of the economic policies of the Gorbachev regime, Kozyrev’s remark is a warning to Soviet workers who, with the growing weight of international capital within the USSR, will be confronting, more and more directly, imperialist exploitation.

Kozyrev also ridiculed as outdated the idea that there exist irreconcilable class antagonisms. “It is all the more strange to talk about the irreconcilable interests of states with different social systems now that even the class conflicts within capitalist countries largely take place through the achievement of compromise within a mutually accepted legal framework rather than in the form of harsh confrontation. It follows that the Soviet workers’ solidarity with their class brothers in the West far from justifies the thesis of global class confrontation” (Ibid.).

Just as Kozyrev denied the existence of inter-imperialist antagonisms at the very point when they have developed to a level unprecedented in the entire postwar era, he proclaimed the end of the class struggle at the end of a decade which has been characterized by a brutal international offensive of capital against labor. In the United States, the 1980s has seen such magnificent examples of “the achievement of compromise within a mutually accepted legal framework” as the destruction of PATCO in 1981, the use of state police and National Guardsmen to destroy the unions of copper miners in Arizona and meat packers in Minnesota, and the hiring of strikebreakers to bust unions in countless other struggles. In 1984-85, Britain was the scene of the longest national coal miners strike in that nation’s history, in the course of which workers battled thousands of police week after week. Examples of bitter class confrontation could be drawn from the recent experience of virtually all capitalist countries.

Kozyrev’s apparent blindness to social reality is, in fact, nothing other than his individual manifestation of the same petty-bourgeois outlook that animates the hordes of journalists employed by the capitalist press. Though confronted daily with horrifying scenes of social misery, decadence and degeneration, they are able to write blithely of America’s “renewal” under Reagan!

Kozyrev reserved his heaviest sarcasm when calling for the complete repudiation of even formal lip service to the anti-imperialist struggles of the backward countries.

“The myth that the class interests of socialist and developing countries coincide in resisting imperialism does not hold up to criticism at all. The majority of developing countries already adhere or tend toward the Western model of development and they suffer not so much from capitalism as from a lack of it. They are interested not in struggling against former metropolises but in cooperating to defend their own international stability, which is what our cooperation with the ‘Third World’ must be aimed at” (Ibid.).

These remarks are aimed at justifying the Kremlin’s repudiation of even ceremonial association with the struggle of the oppressed nations against imperialism. The Soviet Union is now aggressively seeking the establishment of formal diplomatic relations with Israel and South Africa. In respect to the later, the Soviet Union played the decisive role in blocking the apartheid state’s expulsion from the International Atomic Energy Agency. There have also been reports that the Soviet Union, while paying lip service to United Nations economic sanctions, has been coordinating its own activities on the international gold and diamond markets with South Africa.

Imperialism has carefully followed the development of Gorbachev’s policies and has made no secret of its enthusiasm for perestroika. The Financial Times, the authoritative spokesman of British imperialism, wrote after Gorbachev consolidated his position in the Politburo at the end of 1988: “Almost everyone in the West wishes Mr. Gorbachev well, and will therefore be relieved that he appears to have come out firmly on top in the latest Kremlin power struggle.” In a similar vein, an article on the columns page of the New York Times bluntly declared: “From the point of view of America’s national interest, nothing is more obvious than the desirability of doing all that we can to keep Mikhail S. Gorbachev in office.... Mr. Gorbachev is, from our viewpoint, the best General Secretary we could dream of seeing.” Or as George Bush proclaimed in a speech last week: “Mr. Gorbachev, don’t stop now!”

Imperialism’s attitude toward Gorbachev is not determined by the superficial “democratic” aspects of glasnost that so easily turn the heads of his many impressionable petty- bourgeois admirers. The bourgeoisie is preoccupied by more weighty concerns. Last January Pravda reported a meeting between Gorbachev and the Trilateral Commission, an organization composed of the most powerful political and economic representatives of American, European and Japanese imperialism. Among those participating in the discussion were David Rockefeller of the Chase Manhattan Bank, former French President Giscard d’Estaing, former Japanese President Y. Nakasone, and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. According to Pravda, “M.S. Gorbachev’s guests were all particularly interested in learning how he assesses the opportunities that restructuring affords, what the timetable is for putting its ideas into practice, and when it will be possible to pose the question of integrating the Soviet economy into the world economy.”

At the end of the conference, after hearing Gorbachev’s answers, David Rockefeller “stated that the discussion had been exceptionally interesting, useful and encouraging as to its potential consequences” (Current Digest, 15 February 1989).

Were the future of the Soviet Union determined exclusively by the political and economic goals of the bureaucracy in its relations with world imperialism, there can be no doubt that the hopes of the Trilateral Commission would be fully realized. The complete integration of the Soviet Union into the structure of the capitalist world market would be accomplished on the basis of the destruction of the planned economy and the social conquests of the October Revolution. Capitalism would be restored to the USSR.

But beside the plans and egotism of the bureaucrats, there is also the Soviet working class, which represents today a social force of almost unimaginable revolutionary potential. In 1917, the Russian proletariat, consisting of no more than 3,000,000 people, was able to carry through the greatest social transformation in world history. Today that class is more than 150,000,000 strong, concentrated in the largest industrial complexes in the entire world. As the counterrevolutionary implications of Gorbachev’s policies become clear, it is beyond all doubt that the Soviet working class will mobilize in its millions to defend its revolution. The peaceful integration of the Soviet Union into the structure of world capitalism is inconceivable.

Moreover, the struggle of the Soviet working class unfolds today within the context of the greatest crisis of world capitalism since the end of World War II. All the international institutions upon which the entire postwar equilibrium and expansion of capitalism was based are now breaking down. The precipitous decline of the world position of the United States, the loss of its previously unchallenged economic hegemony, destroys the main stabilizing factor in the relations between the imperialist states. Thus, the essential contradiction between the world economy and the nation-state system once again assumes an explosive character.

The very attempt of the Soviet bureaucracy to defend its privileges and even develop new forms of property through an alliance with imperialism and the integration of the USSR into the world capitalist economy has the effect of drawing the Soviet Union more directly into the maelstrom of the world capitalist crisis. At the same time, it erodes the barriers between the Soviet proletariat and its international class brothers and strengthens the objective basis for common revolutionary struggle against imperialism and its Stalinist agents.

“Will the bureaucrat devour the workers’ state, or will the working class clean out the bureaucrat? Thus stands the question upon whose decision hangs the fate of the Soviet Union.” We will not have too long to wait before that question, posed 53 years ago by Leon Trotsky, is decisively answered. Already, the rough outlines of that answer is emerging in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, where hundreds of thousands of students and workers are rising up against the betrayal of the Chinese Revolution by the Stalinist bureaucracy. The great events now unfolding in China are the portents of the coming political revolution in the USSR.

History is the greatest ironist. Having made no secret of his admiration of the pro-capitalist economic policies of the Chinese bureaucrats, Gorbachev arrived in Beijing just in time to witness the beginning of a revolution provoked by the very program he seeks to emulate in the USSR. It is Tiananmen Square today; it is Red Square tomorrow!

The deep divisions within the Soviet bureaucracy, of which the recent elections are an expression, set the stage for the entry of the working class into active and independent political life. This will not be the first time when the masses entered into revolutionary struggle through the cracks opened up by the internal divisions within the ruling circles. When the Soviet working class begins to move in its millions, the pathetic and insignificant character of Gorbachev’s miserly doses of officially-sanctioned “democracy” will be quickly exposed. The real confrontation between the Soviet masses and the Stalinist bureaucracy is still on the agenda.

When that confrontation comes, the victory of the Soviet proletariat depends upon the development of a conscious revolutionary leadership which—having fully assimilated the lessons of the long struggle waged by Leon Trotsky and the Fourth International against the Stalinist bureaucracy—stands completely independent of all the bureaucratic cliques.

It is on this basis that the genuine Trotskyists of the International Committee are striving to build the Soviet section of the Fourth International.


Lenin explained the objective significance of these theoretical conceptions when he wrote that reference to the unity of opposites expresses “the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their ‘self-movement” in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the ‘struggle of opposites’” (V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 38 [Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977], pp. 357-58). Lenin also wrote, “The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts ... is the essence (one of the ‘essentials,’ one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics” (Ibid., p. 357).


In a recently-published book written by Robert Gilpin, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of International Relations at Princeton University, the dilemma confronting world capitalism was put quite bluntly: “An increasingly interdependent world economy requires an international agreement to formulate and enforce the rules of an open world market economy and to facilitate the adjustment of differences or a high degree of policy coordination among capitalist states. Without one or the other, a market economy will tend to disintegrate into intense nationalist conflicts over trade, monetary arrangements, and domestic policies. With the relative decline of American power and its ability and willingness to manage the world economy, the issue has become preeminent in the world economy. If there is no increase in policy coordination or decrease in economic interdependence among the leading capitalist economies, the system could indeed break into warring states, as Lenin predicted. The long-term survival of a capitalist or international market system, at least as we have known it since the end of the Second World War, continues to be problematic” (The Political Economy of International Relations [Princeton: Princeton University Press], pp. 63-64).