International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International 1991: Oppose imperialist war and colonialism!

Anabasis or Was the Soviet Union Socialist and Will It Be Soviet?

This article was written by a Soviet historian, and obtained by the ICFI during the visit to Ukraine by Nick Beams, then national secretary of the Socialist Labour League (the predecessor of the Socialist Equality Party of Australia). This volume of Fourth International also includes a letter by David North to the Soviet historian, reviewing the essay.

Anabasis—literally “path into the country,” the title of two tales: about Kir’s campaign in Greece (Xenofont), and about the campaign of Alexander of Macedonia in Persia (Arrian).

“Long live the truth!’’
L. Trotsky, 1937

In front of me—the first issues of Bulletin of the Fourth International in Russian ... 60 years ago Kaganovich spoke about “the blackened, tom into pieces by the working class, banner of Trotskyism” (what a brilliant phrase: “blackened... by the working class”!) “is no longer a current within the international workers’ movement.” But—what an irony of history!—here they are, clean “pieces” of the Trotskyist banner, crimson bulletins with the Hammer and Sickle, and—where is Kaganovich?—frightened old man, living out his life as a pitiful Stalinist scarecrow in the midst of a devastated, not without his help, All-Union garden.... Times change—the new Bulletin is a guarantee to that.

The archival materials placed here are unquestionably priceless by their astounding accord with today’s problems of the Soviet Union and the whole world. Very interesting, and totally unusual for us in Russia, is the analysis of Russia’s present, past and future, the policies of Gorbachev, Yeltsin, the nature of perestroika and many other events. In a word, there is much to discuss, more so, because although we all sail along one current, at times we feel opposing winds and call for setting different sails.

Stalinism in a Single Country

“The leaden backside of the bureaucracy had outweighed the head of the revolution. Here lies the solution of the Soviet Thermidor.”
L. Trotsky, 1936

The great merit of Trotsky was in being the first to give a wonderful Marxist analysis of the class nature of the Stalinist regime, to determine the alternative paths of development of the USSR’s political system, in which he discovered the eclectic joining of elements of the workers state and the prerevolutionary regime. At the same time, the question of the future of the USSR remained open: either the direct counterrevolutionary overthrow by the bureaucracy, or a workers revolution against the bureaucratic absolutism.

Sadly, the first had occurred, when Mexico, having gotten used to it, began to forget the modest grave with the Hammer and Sickle, when the Fourth International was busy with its internal fractional fighting, preferring an abstract theory to a joyless practice, when not only the Trotskyists, but the whole world could not distinguish the perturbations behind the “Iron Curtain,” when the West saw only shadows of the Kremlin buffooneries, heard only the weak echoes of the national moaning, and in the barely felt wind, it could not, of course, discern the nauseating smell of decay, dominating the Russian gravesites among the relics of the “workers’ state.”

Khrushchev’s “overcoming of the cult of personality” and the partial rehabilitation of the victims of Stalinism, which only applied to the “innocent” Stalinist lackeys, who suffered from the excessive zealousness of the GPU (although Khrushchev planned to rehabilitate those close to himself, “rightists,” with Bukharin at the head). With all the liberalization of the regime undoubtedly taking place, this so-called “thaw” was nothing but the “just” reaction of the bureaucracy to the rickety instability of its position (as accurately noted by Trotsky).

Despite all the pro-bureaucratism of the Stalinist regime in the USSR, the specific qualities were the remaining political institutions created under Lenin and Trotsky; there were alive the memories about the first period of Soviet power, while the state ownership of the means of production was not national, still it seemed such to both the unmercifully exploited enthusiasm of the workers and to the “orderly” party consciousness of the bureaucrats, and, primarily, the mass repressions and connected with them unprecedented shuffling of the cadres and the fear of the bureaucracy of the unpredictable machine of proscriptions—all these taken together contained the power of the bureaucracy during Stalin’s time.

Khrushchev, on the other hand, virtually guaranteed stability for those who supported the “correct party line.” Bureaucracy was so strengthened during his rule that it “rose” in a high-officials’ Fronde (French word meaning clique), and in 1964 organized its own “October overthrow.”

MASTERS OF THE COUNTRY were no longer satisfied with a liberal and uneducated, but independent and impulsive “leader”—they now needed a total NON-LEADER, programmed, predictable and weak-willed.... Brezhnev’s rule, especially during its later stages, was characterized by a full absenteeism of the Center, which did not even attempt to intervene into the affairs of the unchanging and omnipotent republican, regional and oblast’ party sovereigns, who promoted their own people to all the key posts in their regions. This clan system of state power, based on an uncontrolled centralized distribution, led to the appearance’ of Mafia groupings, truly capitalist monopolies, fully diversified, embracing all the aspects of human life and, as a rule, having a patron (usually a “Godfather”) inside the Union ministries, in the Kremlin and the Old Square.

In this way, by the end of the 1950s and 1960s, there occurred a transformation of the bureaucracy, as a social group, into a SPECIAL CLASS, fully in control of all production, distribution, exchange and consumption. (Marx characterized CLASS as exactly a group of persons, having a particular place in the system of production, exchange and consumption.) The transformation begun by Stalin of socialism, of the socialist revolution into its opposite, was completed without him by his heirs, even more mediocre, empirical, equally distant from intellect and theory. In a country with a disproportionately developed economy, devastated by, in Trotsky’s words, “the goat jumps of collectivization” village, with a declassed, DEPEASANTIZED peasantry, degenerated into lazy kolkhoz-sovkhoz day laborers, with a working class two-thirds of which was recruited from the farms and herded into obedience under the leadership of the trade unions, in a country built according to a classic capitalist monopoly (but with an even higher rate of surplus value)—in this set apart ( by a bureaucratic siege) country, in Brezhnev’s era there was built a developed STALINISM, which had only an empty, formal-symbolic link with Marxism and with the October dreams of the Bolsheviks.

From bazaar to a market

“Out of all the layers of Soviet society, bureaucracy best of all solved its own social problems and is quite happy with what is....”
L. Trotsky, 1936

Thus, the victorious bureaucracy whispered: “Socialism is dead!” while shouting aloud: “Long live ‘SOCIALISM’!” It is no wonder that behind these deafening cries, behind the clinking of medals presented to one another, and the pageant of the noisy and empty, each the identical twin of the other, festivals, congresses and meetings, choosing and promoting itself according to personal loyalties and anti-intellectualism, the ruling camarilla did not (and could not) hear the inexorable steps of history—the world moved ahead, and we did not have enough fingers on our hands to count the “advantages” of “socialism” in an underdeveloped country with a conservative ANTI-ECONOMIC political system and backward ANTI-CONSUMER economy....

The wizard of behind-the-scenes maneuvers, the grandmaster of free-style wrestling on the most exclusive mats, Gorbachev in 1985 was able to get the “communist” state with a nuclear scepter on top. During the initial two and a half years, he shuffled the party, government and “competent organs” apparatus in the tempo of the 1930s. Unmuzzling the press was a prelude to a general liberalization of the system. Stalinism and its “developed” modifications of the 1950s through 1980s were, for the first time in USSR, subjected to a FULL, FREE and ALL-SIDED CRITICISM; the struggle against the Mafia and the corruption, begun by Andropov, gained new strength; the USSR came out of the political imprisonment of the concentration camp of “real socialism” onto the arena of world politics; gradually the Soviet Union refuses further support to the dictatorial regimes, nurtured on a share of the surplus value of our workers, peasants and intellectuals. The revival of the soviets, unheard of in the USSR, limitation of the omnipotence of the head of state (his real election, subordination to the Supreme Soviet), creation of the Committee for Overseeing the Constitution, constitutional abolition of CPSU’s monopoly on power, beginning on a multiparty system, forecast by Trotsky—put an end to the past political system.

All these steps have called forth a furious resistance by the bureaucracy, which is attempting through its organs (newspaper Sovetskaia Rossiya, journals Molodaya Gvardiya, Moskva, Nash Sovremennik, almost all of the provincial press) to discredit the perestroika of the old structures, to defend the old Stalinist dogmas, to protest against the “blackening” of the country’s past. Our country’s move towards a market economy has stirred up no less rage. Gorbachev himself had originally shunned this idea, but with time he not only accepted it, but even made it “his own,” supporting the “Shatalin Plan” which proclaimed as the first principle the liberation of the people from under the rule of the “monopolist goods-producers and monopolist goods-distributors” (see Izvestia, 5 Sept. 1990, “Man, freedom, market”—the Shatalin program).

Starting on October 1, Russia is realizing the program of transition to a market, the importance of which was outlined by Trotsky 60 years ago: “Only by the interaction of state planning, the market and Soviet democracy can a correct management of an economy during a transitional epoch be realized....” (“Bulletin of the Opposition” #31, p. 9). State planning finally becomes itself since. “The plan is checked, and to a large extent realized through the market. The regulation of the market must be based on the tendencies discovered through it.” (Ibid, p. 8).

Soviet democracy, gaining a constitutional flesh and multiparty blood, is taking over from an uncontrolled oligarchy of the plutocrats. The market frees the masses from the suppression of a huge governmental monopoly (the cruelty and insolence of exploitation and the defenselessness of the exploited under it could only be compared to the manufacturers of the period of the primitive accumulation of capital), the market fills the ruble with a real content, returning to it the role of a universal equivalent. (“The system of transitional economy is incomprehensible without a control by the ruble. This assumes, in turn, that the ruble is equivalent to itself,” [Ibid. p. 8]), and finally, the market “foresees the reestablishment of a true dependency of the wage on the result of one’s own labor and a certain, albeit gradual, growth of its realistic content” (Izvestia, 5 Sept. 1990, Shatalin program).

To be sure, the rise of real planning, full-blooded Soviet democracy and a real, as opposed to an “Asian bazaar,” free of monopolies market—these processes contain many dangers. Democracy may be turned into ochlocracy, the market may elevate to the top of society the nouveau riches, nurtured by the profits of the previous “shadow” bazaar economy. But the old system of bureaucratic dictatorship has no advantages over any other, the Mafia continues to rule—and not only economically! It is exactly Mafia and bureaucracy married to each other, as well as that part of the intelligentsia which partook of their robberies—these groups are holding onto their “feeding troughs,” to an assured rent from the “socialist” state.

These COMMUNIST RENTIERS, together with the most ignorant and backward people, confused by the shadows of Black Hundred chauvinism and barrack socialism—these are the only enemies of the Soviet democracy and the market in the USSR.

We return—forward!

“Workers are realists. Never fooling themselves concerning the ruling caste ... they see in it for now a guardian of some part of their own conquests. They will inevitably chase off the dishonorable, impudent and unreliable guard, as soon as they see another possibility.”
L. Trotsky, 1936

Well, we have concluded our “anabasis,” a tour over the tracks of revolution and counterrevolution deep within the country, the people of which have suffered all these current transformations. “The attempts to build a system, separated from the outside world, have practically doomed to degradation and stagnation the major branches of our economy” (Izvestia, 5 Sept. 1990, Shatalin program). Trotsky’s forecasts on the unviability of Stalinist “socialism in one country” have been fulfilled. We are raising the “Iron Curtain,” we are returning to Europe, to the world. In our path are only the obscurants, nurtured by the agonizing Stalinism; it would be a great pity, if in their criticism of perestroika and their defense of the monopolist state property and the barrack-bazaar economy, the Andreyevs, the Ligachevs, the Makashovs, the Polozkovs and Starodubtsevs were to be joined by the theoretical heirs of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.

There are humanist, all-humanity ideas within Marxism. Marx himself in his youth wrote Christian poems; Trotsky was once fascinated by Narodnism; not one Marxist ever suffered fits of revolutionary lust when looking at the bloodstains on the cruel sun of the revolution, seeing them with the pain of inevitability rather than the lust of blood wish. Among the 18 groups who participate in the Civic Forum in Czechoslovakia there are also Trotskyists. It would be frightening, repulsive, unjust for the Bulletin of the Fourth TROTSKYIST International to aim its sharp sickle and heavy hammer against the Soviet power, which has already conquered in Moscow, Leningrad, the advanced industrial regions—the Urals, Donbass, Kuzbass, power, which with the support of advanced workers is turning to the market, to the needs of the masses.

Read once more the chapter “The inevitability of a new revolution” in Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed—its many forecasts have been fulfilled and are being carried out by the new Soviet power which is not wasting its time flipping a coin—”socialism or capitalism?”—but under the shrill shouts of the bureaucratic preachers, who are shouting from the tops of the Party minarets about the dangers of the “rejection of socialism,” is constructing a new society, in which the “bureaucratic autocracy must be replaced by Soviet democracy” (L. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed), where is already occurring “reestablishment of the right to criticize and truly free elections ... rights for all Soviet parties beginning with the Bolsheviks and the rebirth of trade unions ... radical reexamination of planning in the interests of workers. The free discussion of economic problems...,” where the people receive “the possibility to breathe freely, criticize, make mistakes and mature,” where “science and the arts are unshackled,” where “foreign policy returns to the traditions of revolutionary internationalism” (Ibid.), and this latter (please turn to the “Decree on Peace” and the “Declaration of Rights ...” of 1917) does not at all imply the export of revolution, subversive work in “unfriendly” countries and affectionate feeding of the SOBs like the still ruling Najibullah and Kim Il Sung or the already arrested Zhivkov or the bumped off Ceausescu.

The conclusions of this are: the system of all-encompassing political and economic state monopoly is a universal system of uncontrolled, devious ownership of the state by the bureaucracy; the rebirth and coming to replace Stalinism in the USSR system of Soviet democracy is an anti-monopolist system of market economy. If you have not substituted dialectics for an emploi ingenue (of a virgin), who is only familiar with the moralizing of her blue-stockinged tutor, if you are on the side of the CARBONARIES[1]—here is my hand, comrades!

Let us go together—WE ARE RETURNING FORWARD!


Carbonaries—in Italian, “miners” (the miners of Donbass, Kuzbass, Vorkuta are one of the main supports of the democratic Soviets, and first of all, of the Supreme Soviet of Russia, headed by Yeltsin)