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

Appendix: Soviet Miners Defy Gorbachev

1. The mass strike movement of miners in the Soviet Union, the largest strike wave since the consolidation of Stalinist rule in the 1920s, is a historical milestone for the world working class. The Soviet working class is directly challenging the power and privileges of the bureaucratic caste which usurped power from the proletariat, murdered the Bolshevik leaders of the 1917 October Revolution and has served ever since as the main counterrevolutionary force within the international workers’ movement.

The strike by hundreds of thousands of coal miners is a rebellion not against communism and socialism, but against Stalinism. It expresses the grievances of the working class which have accumulated for decades against the parasitic bureaucracy, with its police-state despotism and criminal mismanagement of the planned economy, and now find their culmination in Gorbachev’s plans to restore capitalist property relations and destroy all the gains of the October Revolution.

Despite claims by the Stalinist-controlled media that some Siberian strikers were returning to work, new sections of miners have joined the strike at Karaganda in Kazakhstan, at Dnepropetrovsk in the Ukraine, at Rostov on Don in European Russia, and at Vorkuta in the Ural Mountains.

The strikes began over economic demands which highlight the appalling conditions facing miners, among the best-paid sections of the Soviet working class. The strikers in the Kuznets basin of Siberia presented a list of 40 demands, including increased supplies of sugar, soap and detergent, meat, condensed milk, tea, coffee and cocoa, and warm winter clothing. The workers also demanded better working conditions and more concern for the environment.

These elementary demands soon were combined with political demands which directly threaten the power of the Stalinist bureaucracy: abolition of official privileges, control of the mining industry by local committees of miners, and the drafting of a new Soviet constitution with guarantees of democratic rights.

2. The class anger of the coal miners towards the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy was expressed in some press interviews. Striker Alexander Kusaimov, a Siberian miner, said, “Finally the time came for us to wage war with the bureaucrats. In the mines, bureaucrats are useless. They just take, take, take. And we work our lives away, and for what? We hear every day about reforms from Moscow, but in Kemerovo, we don’t feel it. Everything is rationed. You can’t even find a damned match to light a cigarette with—if you can find any cigarettes.”

Another miner, Alexander Polvetko, 35, said, “In four years, life has gotten worse and worse. You work all day, 500 meters below the ground, your lungs fill up with garbage, and there’s filth in every crease of your body, and then you come out seven hours later and you can’t even get a bar of soap to wash with. How can I describe how humiliating this is?

“These bureaucrats, they sit on their butts and get double and triple what we make down in the pits. They get regular vacations. They get Sundays off. They get a car, a decent regular life. And we get the butt-end of the stick.”

Calery Sherbokov, a member of the strike committee, compared the government’s concessions to “throwing a bone to a hungry animal. It’s demeaning.”

“Workers wanted their own voices to be heard,” Sherbokov said, “and this is our revolution from below. For years we have waited for everyone to tell us what to do. Now they say we have a democracy, and so it’s high time we took advantage of it. It’s time we believed in ourselves and made ourselves heard.”

3. The miners’ strike, while reported in the official media, has been met with unconcealed hostility by the Stalinist leadership under Mikhail Gorbachev. In a speech to the Supreme Soviet Wednesday, Gorbachev warned the miners of possible government intervention against the strike. He expressed special concern over the appeal by miners for railroad workers to join their strike on August 1. “Such a development of events poses a threat to the implementation of perestroika,” he said.

One Moscow newspaper made the first public comparison of the strike wave to the Solidarity movement in Poland in 1980-81, noting that the Polish strikes began over economic demands, but went on to raise political demands.

Whatever short-term concessions are made by the regime, the logic of the struggle leads inexorably to a violent settlement of accounts between the working class and the privileged bureaucracy. Despite the cosmetic changes of Gorbachev’s glasnost policy, the Soviet bureaucracy retains full control of all the organs of state repression, including the KGB and the Red Army.

The Soviet working class can only carry forward successfully the struggle which the miners have begun by overthrowing the Stalinist bureaucracy as a whole through a political revolution, and reestablishing genuine Soviet democracy, the dictatorship of the proletariat through its own independent organs of struggle, democratically elected workers’ councils or soviets.

4. The capitalist media has sought to present the strike movement as support for Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika and even distorted the demand for greater local control over the coal industry as though it were a demand for the establishment of private ownership, rather than a demand for workers’ control of the state-run industry. The truth is that the miners’ strike represents the independent intervention of the working class, which cuts across the whole thrust of Gorbachev’s economic policies.

The essence of Gorbachev’s policy is to restore capitalist property relations in the Soviet Union at the expense of the working class, while sections of the bureaucracy are transformed into a new capitalist class. Millions of jobs are to be wiped out as mass unemployment is introduced for the first time since the Russian Revolution. State subsidies for living standards and social services are to be abolished. State industry is to be sold off to private capitalists or foreign corporations or dismantled entirely as “uncompetitive” on the world market.

The demands being raised by the coal miners are not merely demands Gorbachev cannot afford—they are demands which are diametrically opposed to his entire policy. The miners are seeking to raise their living standards, not lower them. They aim not to dismantle the planned economy, but to rejuvenate it on the basis of purging the bureaucracy, restoring control to the workers themselves, and abolishing inequality and bureaucratic privileges.

5. The strike reveals that despite the acute shortages of consumer goods, Soviet miners enjoy an entirely different relation to the means of production and to the life of society as a whole than their class brothers in the United States and other countries where the mines are under private capitalist ownership.

The Soviet working class was the first in the world to seize political power, in the October Revolution of 1917. Despite the usurpation of power in the 1920s by the privileged Stalinist bureaucracy, the property relations established by the revolution have not been overthrown, and the revolution lives in the consciousness of millions of Soviet workers. At one demonstration in Prokopyevsk, miners rallied under a banner that read, “Power to the People’s Soviets.”

The Soviet miners take it for granted that the profits of the coal industry should be used to improve their living standards and the social conditions throughout the mining region. Among their demands have been the use of coal profits to build better schools, hospitals and recreation facilities, the diversion of investment into agriculture to improve their food supplies, and greater investment in pollution control.

The capitalist class all over the world hates the Soviet working class and fears its movement against Gorbachev’s restorationist policies. The Financial Times, the leading organ of British capitalism, noted the devotion of miners internationally to the egalitarian and fraternal ideals of communism, and warned Gorbachev that the miners’ economic demands were in direct conflict with his policies.

“Change of any kind will not come through allowing the miners to retain their status as communist society’s most fearful pressure group. Sooner or later, Mr. Gorbachev and his fellow reformers will have to take them on,” the newspaper declared.

6. The Soviet miners’ strike is an integral part of the movement of the international working class, which on every continent is moving into enormous class battles. In the capitalist countries, the working class is in rebellion against the rotten leaderships, Stalinism, social democracy and the AFL-CIO bureaucracy, which defend the profit system. In the Stalinist-ruled countries, the workers are moving against the attempt by the bureaucracy to restore capitalism.

As the Soviet miners were walking out, they were joined by bus drivers and shipyard workers fighting the Jaruzelski regime in Poland, railway workers and oil rig workers in Britain, and coal miners in the United States.

The Soviet strike wave has vast historical significance. It means the revival of the great revolutionary traditions of the Russian and Soviet working class, which has already made three revolutions in this century—the 1905 revolution which first challenged the tsarist autocracy, the February 1917 revolution which overthrew tsarism, and the October 1917 revolution which overthrew capitalist rule and established the first workers’ state.

This means a revival within the Soviet working class of the revolutionary internationalist program on which the Bolshevik Revolution was based.

The leaders of the October Revolution saw the taking of power by the Russian working class as the opening shot of the world socialist revolution, a historical process which would not be completed until the entire world working class was liberated from capitalist and imperialist slavery and unified in a worldwide socialist confederation.

Against the nationalist policy of Stalin, based on the anti-Marxist slogan of “socialism in a single country,” Trotsky and the Left Opposition fought for the perspective of world socialist revolution. Only on this basis could the resources be obtained to overcome the economic backwardness of the Soviet economy, inherited from tsarism, and make possible the construction of socialism, which can only be built on a world scale. While the enormous economic development of the Soviet Union over the last 60 years has proven beyond a doubt the superiority of the planned economy over capitalist anarchy, the Soviet economy remains isolated in a world market dominated by capitalism.

The policies of Gorbachev constitute an admission by the Stalinist bureaucracy that the perspective of “socialism in a single country” has completely failed. The bureaucracy proposes to resolve the crisis of the Soviet economy, rooted in its isolation from the world market, by integrating the Soviet Union into the structure of world capitalism, turning over the country to the capitalist multinationals and banks.

The only alternative to this policy is the integration of the Soviet economy into the world economy on a socialist basis, through the world socialist revolution. The movement of the Soviet working class against Gorbachev’s pro-capitalist policy therefore must be accompanied by a turn by the Soviet workers once again to the road of international revolution.

The instinctive internationalism of the Soviet working class has already been demonstrated in the speed with which the strike has spread throughout the Soviet Union. The strike has united Russian, Ukrainian and Kazakh-speaking miners fighting for the same class demands, under conditions where the heavy hand of the Stalinist bureaucracy has fanned national antagonisms in the Baltic republics, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

7. The Soviet strike wave is a vindication of the struggle waged by Trotsky to preserve the heritage and traditions of revolutionary Marxism. Trotsky’s perspective of a political revolution against Stalinism was attacked by Pabloism, a revisionist tendency which arose in the Fourth International in the postwar period. For 36 years, the Pabloites spread illusions in the progressive role of Stalinism, preaching that the Soviet bureaucracy would be capable of “self-reform” and that no political revolution by the working class was necessary.

The International Committee of the Fourth International was formed in 1953 to fight the onslaught of Pabloite revisionism and defend the principles of Trotskyism. The International Committee has defended Trotsky’s analysis of the bureaucracy as the instrument of world imperialism within the first workers’ state and the principal counterrevolutionary force inside the workers’ movement.

In its perspectives resolution adopted less than one year ago, the ICFI examined the development of the world economic and political crisis of capitalism and declared that one of the major factors leading to a resurgence of revolutionary struggle by the working class on an international scale was the resistance of the Soviet, Chinese and East European working class to the turn to the market economy by the Stalinist bureaucracies.

In May, the Bulletin concluded a series of articles on the political developments in the Soviet Union with the prediction that the massive upsurge of the working class in China would shortly be followed by a similar movement of the Soviet workers:

“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.”

The victory of the Soviet workers requires the development of a conscious revolutionary leadership in the working class, fighting for the program of political revolution, the overthrow of the bureaucracy by the working class and the reestablishment of Soviet democracy based on genuine, democratically- elected organs of the workers.

This means the reestablishment of Trotskyism in the country where the working class first took power under revolutionary Marxist leadership, the building of the Soviet section of the International Committee of the Fourth International.

  • Victory to the Soviet workers! Down with Stalinism!
  • Long live the October Revolution! Forward to the world revolution!
  • Unite the international working class! Build the International Committee of the Fourth International!