At long last I am replying to your letters. When he returned from his visit to the Soviet Union, Comrade Nick told me about his discussions with you and spoke warmly of your sincere interest in the ideas and principles of L.D. Trotsky. He gave me a copy of your “Anabasis,” which you wrote, I was told, after you had completed your first reading of The Revolution Betrayed.
It is evident from your “Anabasis” that you are deeply sympathetic to the personality of Leon Trotsky and his implacable struggle against the Stalinist criminals who destroyed the Bolshevik Party and betrayed the October Revolution. We were pleased to publish in the most recent issue of the Bulletin of the Fourth International your reply to Vasetsky’s attack on Trotsky. Such polemics now play a crucial role in the re-forging of the revolutionary workers movement in the Soviet Union.
However, while admiring the passion with which you defend Trotsky’s historical role against the lies of the Stalinists, I must tell you frankly that the political positions advanced in the “Anabasis” differ quite sharply from those which Trotsky elaborated at great length in his many writings on the “Russian Question.”
The essential issue is this: Trotsky’s struggle against the bureaucracy was based on the perspective of world socialist revolution. The principal crime of the Stalinists, in Trotsky’s opinion, was that they subordinated (and thereby repudiated) the struggle against world capitalism to the construction of a politically and economically unviable “national socialism” within the state boundaries of the USSR. In the pursuit of this reactionary utopia, the bureaucracy, Trotsky warned, was systematically undermining the property forms created by the October Revolution and preparing the grounds for the restoration of capitalism.
Thus, Trotsky judged as historically progressive only those tendencies whose struggle against the Stalinist regime pursued international revolutionary socialist aims, and on that basis defended, tooth and nail, whatever remained of the social conquests of the October Revolution. This principled attitude has traditionally separated the Fourth International from the innumerable varieties of vulgar anti-Stalinism, which in the course of fighting the bureaucracy forget all about the fundamental struggle against the international bourgeoisie and the imperialist world order—of which the bureaucracy is, in the final analysis, a political agency.
Today, there are many who proclaim their “opposition” to Stalinism, but at the same time declare their support for the reestablishment of capitalism. A large number of such “opponents” of Stalinism, in the USSR as well as in Eastern Europe, had (or have) been high-ranking members of the ruling bureaucracy for many decades. Boris Yeltsin is the best known representative of this tendency. Their transformation into fervent defenders of “free market” economics does not at all contradict their previous political position. Rather, it is the final consummation of the counterrevolutionary logic of Stalinism, which arose as a political reaction against the October Revolution.
The principal error of your “Anabasis” is that it fails to distinguish between the right-wing opposition to Stalinism, which strives to restore capitalism in the Soviet Union, and the left-wing opposition to Stalinism, which seeks to overthrow the parasitic bureaucracy while preserving the nationalized property as the economic foundation for the development of socialist planning. Your document welcomes the transition to the capitalist market as a legitimate, democratic and progressive alternative to the totalitarian rule of the bureaucracy, which has, you contend, since the rise to power of Brezhnev become a “SPECIAL CLASS, fully in control of all production, distribution, exchange and consumption.” On the basis of this sociological definition of the bureaucracy, you imply that Trotsky’s insistence on the defense of the property relations established by the October Revolution is no longer valid because they have already been destroyed by the new “special class.” In this new situation, you indicate that the establishment of the capitalist market would signify the destruction of the economic basis of this “special class”—that is, its control of state property—and thereby clear the way for a more democratic, “anti-monopolist,” distribution of property.
This argument stands on very wobbly knees. You do Marx an injustice by attributing to him the rather simplistic definition of a class “as exactly a group of persons, having a particular place in the system of production, exchange and consumption.” Virtually every human being falls in some way into this very broad category. In order to properly define a specific social group as a class it is not enough to demonstrate that they are part of a system of production, exchange and consumption. One must go much further and demonstrate that the given system of production, exchange and consumption, and the forms of property on which it is based, are rooted in, are the expression of and are indissolubly linked with the historical development and activity of the social group in question. The Soviet bureaucracy, for all its vast power and the ruthlessness with which it has exercised its authority, does not meet the test of these more profound criteria. The economic base of the bureaucracy is not its own, historically unique, forms of property; rather, the material source of its power has been the nationalized property created by the expropriation of the bourgeoisie by the Russian proletariat in the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution. The income of the bureaucracy is derived from its parasitic relations to the nationalized property and its monopolistic abuse of political power. Were it to lose, as a result of a political revolution, its control over the organs of state power, the bureaucracy would almost immediately cease to play any independent role in the Soviet economy.
I must confess that I found your presentation somewhat disjointed and eclectic; but it seems that you date the final victory of the bureaucratic “Special Class” to the “October overthrow” of Khrushchev in 1964. To attribute such vast historical significance to that pathetic palace coup is almost to flatter the bureaucracy. For Marxism, a revolution implies the transfer of power from one class to another class, with a corresponding overthrow of the existing property relations. What took place in October 1964 was considerably less heroic: Khrushchev returned from vacation in the Crimea and discovered that he was being moved out of his office and placed on pension. Considerably more than that would have been required for the bureaucracy to transform itself into a “Special Class.”
If nothing else, the events of the last six years in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have dealt the death blow to all the sundry theories which have attributed to the bureaucracy the historical status of a class. The massive social convulsions that are sweeping the USSR are demonstrating what is really involved in overthrowing the property relations established on the basis of the October Revolution. Furthermore, as has already been seen in Eastern Europe, the parasitic bureaucracy has shown absolutely no special attachment or enduring loyalty to the forms of state property—an attitude that would be incomprehensible if the bureaucracy had been a ruling class. Once it had convinced itself that it could no longer control the working class, the Stalinist bureaucrats looked for means of guaranteeing their income which did not depend on the survival of the nationalized industry. Indeed, as soon as they became aware of the promising personal opportunities that might arise from deals with the bourgeoisie, the Stalinist chieftains welcomed and directly collaborated in the liquidation of the state property which they had already largely ruined through their parasitism and incompetence.
Even if we were to accept your sociological definition of the bureaucracy as a “Special Class” based on its monopolistic control of state property, it hardly follows that the establishment of a capitalist market economy will lead to a more democratic distribution of property. The overwhelming majority of the Soviet people would gain absolutely nothing from the carve-up of the assets of the state economy. Without access to capital, they would be compelled to observe from the sidelines as their factories and the property of their collectives were sold off to powerful multinational corporations or to rich Soviet entrepreneurs, many of them former bureaucrats, who exploited their “connections” to make their millions.
Returning to your document, you express disappointment with the hostile attitude taken by the Bulletin of the Fourth International to the policies of Gorbachev, suggesting that our criticism of perestroika may place us in the camp of Polozkov and Ligachev. It would be terrible, you write, for such a fate to befall “the theoretical heirs of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.”
But it is precisely because we are the theoretical heirs of those titans of revolutionary socialism that we oppose all sections of the Soviet bureaucracy, from Yeltsin and Gorbachev to Ligachev and Polozkov. The differences which separate these corrupt and decrepit representatives of the bureaucracy are, in reality, insignificant. They all agree on the need for the establishment of a “free market” system. Their differences are largely of a tactical character, i.e., over the tempo of the transition and, even more important, the division of the booty that is to be realized from the liquidation of state property.
In justifying your defense of perestroika, you present matters as if the choice confronting the Soviet people today is simply autocracy or democracy, without considering the class content of these political categories. This essentially uncritical presentation is not really improved by adding the word “Soviet” before the term “democracy.” Aslam sure you know, the former word has been as abused in the USSR as the latter word has been in the United States. The institutions created bureaucratically under the aegis of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988-89 are not democratic and they are not soviets—if we have in mind the type of mass working class organizations that were formed in 1905 and 1917.
At any rate, it seems to us that your enthusiasm for what is palmed off as “Soviet democracy” is somewhat premature. We, too, are implacable defenders of the cause of Soviet democracy; but we must call to your attention that Trotsky continuously insisted that the regeneration of Soviet democracy is possible only on the basis of the defense of the property relations established by the October Revolution.
We could without difficulty reproduce countless quotations from the writings of Leon Trotsky in which he refuted and ridiculed the arguments of those who claimed that the restoration of capitalism in the USSR would give rise to a democratic society. To cite just one of his many categorical statements on this subject, he asserted in 1929 that “a switching over onto the track of capitalism could be accomplished in no other way than by a prolonged and cruel civil war, accompanied by open or disguised intervention from without.
“The only political form such an overturn could take would be a military dictatorship, a contemporary variety of Bonapartism” (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1929 [New York, 1975], p. 57).
It is not necessary to wage a war of quotations to prove this or that position. Let us simply examine the issue from the standpoint of the practical implications of contemporary developments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. As is now being demonstrated throughout this vast region, the restoration of the capitalist market brings with it a drastic lowering of the social and cultural level of the working masses. Indeed, the full magnitude of the destructive impact of this process has not yet been ascertained. In what was formerly the German Democratic Republic, the restoration of capitalism has destroyed virtually the entire industrial infrastructure of the country. It is anticipated that by the end of the summer, one-half to two-thirds of the working population will be without gainful employment. Less than a year ago, the official political pundits were proclaiming that the massive economic strength of West Germany would guarantee a relatively painless transition to capitalism in the East. That has not turned out to be true. Instead, the unforeseen (to all but the Trotskyists!) consequences of reunification have shaken the economic and political equilibrium of the entire German state. The democratic apparatus set up in Germany by the American imperialists after the end of the war (after only a minor clean up of what was left of the old Nazi regime) is now coming under tremendous strain. A protracted deterioration of the economic situation, driving the working class into struggle, will transform the German state into a new version of the Weimar Republic. In other words, the intensification of class tensions must, sooner or later, overload the democratic circuitry of the bourgeois German state. The recent terrorist assassination of Detlev Rohwedder, the German industrialist who was supervising the dismantling of the nationalized industry of the former GDR, is a reflection of the growing instability. At his funeral, Johannes Rau, one of the main leaders of the Social Democratic Party, lamented the demoralization that has swept Germany since the reunification was completed on October 3, 1990. “Then we were so full of hope,” he said. “How long ago that already seems.”
If the long-established democracy in Germany is beginning to shake in the aftermath of reunification, what will be the fate of the countries of Eastern Europe and the USSR, where the process of capitalist restoration must be carried out without the possibility of drawing upon the resources of a capitalist “big brother” like West Germany? One has only to look at the conditions which now exist in Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia—not to mention the USSR—for an answer. Nowhere is there even the slightest sign that a viable democratic regime is in the process of emerging from the developing economic catastrophe.
It is an ironic fact that out of the supposed blossoming of democracy in the USSR there has emerged not one, but two, Bonapartist figures, Gorbachev and Yeltsin, each demanding the right to rule by decree! And the ridiculous “Soviets” in Moscow—which are, in fact, little more than miserable caricatures of the corrupt parliamentary assemblies of the bourgeoisie—grant to both various emergency powers.
Indeed, the reports we receive from the Soviet Union indicate that many of the foremost advocates of capitalist economics are now stating that it will be necessary to institute an authoritarian (or, to put it more bluntly, neofascist) regime, similar to that which existed in Chile under General Pinochet, to carry through the “shock therapy” required by the market. These positions are, at least, less hypocritical than those advanced by the more lyrical defenders of perestroika. They recognize that if the masses are to be reduced to utter destitution and transformed into raw material for unrestrained joint exploitation by the imperialists and a new class of Russian comprador capitalists, this cannot be achieved with democratic methods.
Even as I write these lines, today’s newspapers carry a report on the latest discussions taking place in Moscow concerning the formation of a coalition government between supporters of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. One report quotes the views of Vladimir Durasov and Oleg Rumyantsev, who declared, according to the Financial Times, that “democrats could be prepared ‘to support some future authoritarian reforms’ which would be brought in by Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Pavlov.”
In considering the possibility of establishing a democratic market system in the USSR, let us fix in our minds certain historical facts. The modern state as it exists in the most advanced capitalist countries is the historical product of democratic revolutions which united the rising bourgeoisie and the rural masses, as well as the embryonic proletariat, against the reactionary feudal (or, as in the case of the United States, the slave-owning) class. The development of capitalism brought into existence the modern proletariat. In the aftermath of the democratic revolutions in, say, England, France and the United States, the rapid development of capitalist relations provided the impulse for the development of the proletariat. The ensuing eruption of the social struggle between the bourgeoisie and proletariat exposed the class nature of the democratic state, that is, its role as the defender of bourgeois property. The really significant advances that have been realized in the social rights of the working class in the course of the last century—such as the eight-hour day, the right to public education, the right to form trade unions, etc.—were achieved through the direct struggle of the working class against the bourgeois-democratic state. (Incidentally, virtually all of these social conquests are under ferocious attack throughout Western Europe and in the United States.)
Moreover, as far back as the 19th century, Marx already noted the tendency of the bourgeoisie, when confronted with a threat from a more developed working class, to back away from the struggle for democracy, even against its traditional feudalist opponents. That is why in states with a belated bourgeois development, where the working class had emerged as a powerful and independent social force even before political power passed into the hands of the representatives of the bourgeoisie, democracy has had such a pathetic history. Thus, as Trotsky explained so well in his elaboration of the theory of permanent revolution, once the proletariat enters on to the stage of history as a mass social force, the struggle for democracy merges indissolubly with the social struggle against the bourgeoisie.
We should also note that the regime of bourgeois democracy, even with all its inherent limitations on the rights of the working class, has been a luxury which only the most prosperous capitalist states have been able to afford. In vast portions of the world—particularly in South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia—the characteristic form of bourgeois rule is savage dictatorships.
Examined against the backdrop of the real historical process, the utopian character of a program that promises to combine democracy with capitalism in Eastern Europe and the USSR becomes absolutely clear. Not until the events of 1989 has there been an attempt to introduce capitalism into countries where there already exists a highly-developed working class. As I have already indicated, the first signs do not bode well for the democratic outcome of this ongoing experiment. In every one of these countries the reintroduction of capitalism can only be carried out at the expense of the working class. While the well-placed bureaucrats, black marketeers and new entrepreneurs of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union expect to make millions as agents of international capital, the working class will gain absolutely nothing from the economic transformations that are planned.
Even now, the leaders of the various governments openly assert that the prospects for the survival of democracy depend upon the voluntary suspension of social and political struggle by the working class. In other words, the new capitalist democracies call upon the workers to “democratically” surrender their democratic rights. Only in this way can democracy prosper! But if the workers reject these appeals and fight against the plans to impoverish them in the interest of a viable market economy, the new leaders of these anemic democracies will use all the power at their disposal to crush their strikes and protests.
Returning to your “Anabasis,” I believe that your attempt to discover in the writings of Trotsky a defense of the economic program of perestroika is a hopeless enterprise. You assert that “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.’ “
My dear friend, read the quote again. First of all, of what transition is Trotsky speaking: from capitalism to socialism, or from socialism to capitalism? Until the end of his life, Trotsky viewed the events of 1917 as the beginning of a new chapter in world history. With the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and the establishment of central planning, the first steps were taken by the Soviet proletariat toward supplanting the hitherto unrestrained operation of the law of value. Herein lies the great historical advance represented by the Russian workers revolution. This first great experiment in economic planning fell, to be sure, far short of the hopes of the great revolutionary strategists who prepared and led this gigantic social innovation. The chronicle of man’s historical progress is full of such tragic disappointments. But notwithstanding the betrayals of the Stalinists and the terrible degeneration of the Soviet state, the October Revolution, in the form of the planning principle, introduced into world history a new and, compared to the anarchy of capitalism, potentially higher form of social organization.
Of course, in the concrete conditions which existed in Soviet Russia, which had inherited from tsarism a country steeped in semi-feudal backwardness, Trotsky understood that neither the law of value as it operates in capitalist society nor the market as an unconscious regulator of the process of production and distribution could be abolished by fiat. Writing as a defender of state ownership of the means of production, central planning and the monopoly of foreign trade, Trotsky recognized the enduring role played by the market as a means of introducing the necessary element of adjustment and correction into the fragile mechanisms of the backward and isolated Soviet economy. But as conceived by Trotsky, the market was to exert its influence within the framework of state ownership and central planning and, especially, through the medium of Soviet democracy.
What is proposed by perestroika, however, is the exact opposite. The market, in accordance with the demands of international capital, is to replace and destroy state property and central planning. It is openly proclaimed by the Soviet government and its advisers that the market is the supreme achievement of civilization, and that the idea of regulating economic life on the basis of a plan is utterly utopian. In other words, equating the planning principle with its Stalinist caricature, socialism is dismissed as an “impossible dream” which was foolishly, if not criminally, imposed upon the Russian people by the Bolsheviks. If they are right, Comrade, there is no reason to defend the program and principles of Leon Trotsky, or, for that matter, to fight for socialism. One might just as well joust with windmills.
In the quote which you cited, Trotsky speaks of Soviet democracy as one of the forces influencing the operation of the market. But perestroika has no more use for Soviet democracy than it has for central planning. After all, Soviet democracy implies, at the very minimum, the exertion of direct control over production and distribution by the working class through democratically-elected organs of workers power, starting with factory committees. How is the operation of the capitalist market within the USSR compatible with the revolutionary momentum of genuine soviets as potential organs of workers power? We must assume that soviets will be formed in factories and mines which are, from the standpoint of the world capitalist market, inefficient and unprofitable. Thus, if they were to be true to the “ideals” of the market, the first task confronting workers soviets in such locations would be to order massive layoffs or even the shutdown of the entire workplace.
You inform us that “The market frees the masses from the suppression of a huge governmental monopoly,” but you forget to add that it places them in the grip of a force which is infinitely more powerful and ruthless—the world capitalist economy, which is dominated by massive multinational corporations. The only “freedom” that the market will offer the Soviet people is the “freedom” to search desperately for jobs at whatever wage they can get after their present jobs have been eliminated.
Perhaps you think I am exaggerating. Permit me, then, to quote extensively from today’s issue of the Detroit News, an extremely conservative bourgeois newspaper. It carries an article on page eight that is headlined, “Women bear the brunt of German reunification.” It begins as follows:
‘I used to put my head on my pillow and I was asleep. Now, I have only sleepless nights,’ said Eva Wappler, casting her eyes downward.
‘I’m not normally one to hang my head, but my situation is hopeless.’
She’s one of the 787,000 unemployed people in former Communist East Germany.
As a woman, Wappler belongs to the group that’s the biggest loser of German reunification. Nearly 55 percent of eastern Germans without jobs are women.
‘Unemployment is hitting the entire population like a natural catastrophe,’ said Annalise Braun, head of a women’s self-help group in eastern Berlin.
People are not being dismissed because they lack skills or education, but because huge former state industries are cutting their work forces to survive against Western competition. Women, especially with children, are often the first to be let go and the last to be hired for a new job.
In East Germany, 91 percent of working-age women were employed—although most had full-time positions. Although the Communist government assured employment out of its own economic interests, it made millions of women self-sufficient.
To help women coordinate their worker-mother role, the state provided extensive social programs—including free day care and kindergartens. Women got one year of maternity leave, with their pay and job guaranteed, as well as paid leave to care for a sick child. All women also had free access to contraceptive services and abortions.
All this is changing fast.
Bonn is looking to reduce radically the number of day care centers to save money. West German employers are not nearly so generous with maternity leave, and choice on abortion is likely to end.
Many women feel they are losing everything: social rights, economic independence, and hope of surviving amid rising rent, transport and utility costs.
The article concludes with an interview with a member of the Berlin Parliament who told the Detroit News, “The uncertainties are expressing themselves in alcoholism and increased family violence, and women are once again the victims. They are being pushed further and further onto the edges of society. It’s a catastrophe.”
Rhetoric about the “liberating” role of the market is something with which those who live in the advanced capitalist countries are very familiar. One of the lamentable characteristics of those who rhapsodize about the miracle of the market in the Soviet Union is that they know virtually nothing about the reality of capitalism as it exists in the United States and Europe, not to mention the backward countries where the bulk of the world’s population lives. They simply have no conception of what it means to be unemployed in the United States, to be fired from one’s job for going on strike or attempting to organize a union, to raise a family on the wage of an average worker, to face the financial consequences of a medical emergency without owning an insurance policy, to have the heat and electricity shut off or the telephone disconnected because one cannot pay the bills, or even to be thrown out of one’s home because one cannot pay the rent. These are “normal” problems which confront millions of average American workers every day, though they are not referred to in the glorious propaganda about the wonders of capitalism.
Reagan, by the way, spoke often about “getting government off the back of the people,” by which he meant eliminating even the limited restrictions, legislated in the heyday of social liberalism, upon the more obviously criminal forms of exploitation carried out by capitalist concerns. It might seem astonishing that such really reactionary and discredited nostrums should find an audience today in the Soviet Union even among those, like yourself, who consider themselves to be socialists.
This intellectual phenomenon can only be explained by the devastating decline in the general level of the international workers movement, for which the crimes of both Stalinism and social democracy are responsible. Many of those who sing hymns to the glories of the market overlook the real consequences of what is more correctly known as “the anarchy of the capitalist mode of production.” It has been forgotten by far too many that socialism became a mass movement precisely because the proletariat, through its own experiences, came to understand the brutality and ruthlessness of the spontaneous operation of the law of value in capitalist society. To the extent that sincere intellectuals in the USSR—that is, those who are not speculating on how the restoration of capitalism might lead to their personal enrichment—look to the market to “free the masses” from the bureaucracy, they have ceased to believe in socialism or in the capacity of the working class to overthrow the bureaucracy. In other words, they assign to the world bourgeoisie and their agents within the USSR a task that must be carried out by the Soviet working class, with the support of the international proletariat.
Permit me to return to your criticisms of our hostile attitude to perestroika. As if to rebuke the refusal of the Bulletin of the Fourth International to align itself with perestroika, you call to our attention that “Among the 18 groups who participate in the Civic Forum in Czechoslovakia there are also Trotskyists.” I must inform you that those to whom you refer are not Trotskyists but opportunists, followers of the arch-revisionist and enemy of Marxism, Ernest Mandel. Those so-called Trotskyists who collaborated with Vaclav Havel and acceded to his bourgeois program now stand exposed before the Czechoslovak workers as the social consequences of their reactionary alliance make themselves felt.
In contrast to the opportunists, the International Committee has continuously warned the workers that nothing positive can come out of the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracies unless that overthrow is carried out by the class-conscious proletariat, led by a Marxist party. In Germany, the comrades of the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter waged an intransigent and bitter fight against the policies of Modrow and the New Forum. Our German comrades refused to adapt their program to either the lies of the Stalinists or the naive illusions of the workers, who were led to believe that the restoration of capitalism would deliver them into a paradise.
What our comrades had to say was not especially popular and it was difficult to fight for our program. But it was not easy for Lenin and the Bolsheviks to oppose the Provisional Government, which enjoyed the support of the opportunists in the leadership of the soviets, in the months following the overthrow of the tsar. It was the experience of the masses that led them to understand the farsighted character of the Bolsheviks’ policies.
Similarly, ever-larger sections of the German working class are now realizing how they were deceived by Kohl, Modrow, the New Forum and the Pabloites (followers of Ernest Mandel). The authority of the BSA is now steadily growing.
Events in the Soviet Union are developing very rapidly. Everything now depends upon the development of a farsighted revolutionary leadership that bases itself fearlessly on the lessons of the uncompromising struggle waged by Leon Trotsky and the Fourth International against Stalinism. Under no conditions must genuine Trotskyists allow the banner of the Fourth International to be used as a left political cover for the criminal plans of those who are seeking to restore capitalism. Instead, they must adopt an intransigently hostile attitude toward all factions of the bureaucracy and self-seeking petty bourgeoisie. They must warn that the formation of a coalition government, as is now being discussed in the Kremlin, would represent an utterly reactionary alliance between the leading sections of the bureaucracy (still led at this moment by Gorbachev) and the open representatives of the emerging Russian comprador bourgeoisie (led now by Boris Yeltsin). Within the framework of this coalition, these two groups will attempt to work out their tactical differences and proceed to attack the working class with unrestrained ruthlessness. Indeed, the feverish negotiations between the factions of Gorbachev and Yeltsin are their frightened response to the growing independent movement of the working class, which they both view as the greatest threat to their own social interests.
The International Committee, fighting to build a revolutionary leadership in the USSR, appeals to its Soviet supporters to frankly tell workers who are engaged in heroic strike struggles all over the Soviet Union that they should reject all those who seek to deceive them by channeling their heroic struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy into the blind alley of “free market” capitalism. Consider the fate of the Polish workers and their mass Solidarity movement. Millions of workers fought against Stalinism in pursuit of a better life. But they were betrayed by scoundrels like Walesa who represented a right-wing and pre-capitalist opposition to the Stalinist bureaucracy. Thus, today millions of Polish workers are without jobs and have seen their living conditions slashed to a fraction of what they were a decade ago.
It is the oft-repeated misfortune of the working class that after providing the mass power and the greatest portion of human sacrifice required to overthrow an old tyranny, it loses the political initiative, through lack of independent revolutionary leadership, to its two-faced petty-bourgeois “democratic” allies. The latter, once it has achieved its own social aims, then proceeds to impose upon the working class a new tyranny.
Allow me to refer you to words written by Marx and Engels in 1850, which explained, in the aftermath of the defeated revolutions of 1848, the political outlook of the petty-bourgeois democrats and their attitude toward the working class:
Far from desiring to transform the whole of society for the revolutionary proletarians, the democratic petty bourgeois strive for a change in social conditions by means of which the existing society will be made as tolerable and comfortable as possible for them....
At the present moment, when the democratic petty bourgeois are everywhere oppressed, they preach in general unity and reconciliation to the proletariat, they offer it their hand and strive for the establishment of a large opposition party which will embrace all shades of opinion in the democratic party, that is, they strive to entangle the workers in a party organization in which general social-democratic phrases predominate, and serves to conceal their special interests, and in which the definite demands of the proletariat must not be brought forward for the sake of beloved peace. Such a union would turn out solely to their advantage and altogether to the disadvantage of the proletariat. (Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 10 [New York, 1978], pp. 280-81).
To avoid a betrayal that would have tragic consequences for the Soviet and international proletariat, the working class must transform its strike committees into genuine workers soviets, advance its own democratic and social demands, and assume full control over the political and economic life of the cities and regions in which they are active. A mass movement of the working class, organized in genuine soviets (modeled on those of 1905 and 1917), can and must become the basis for the reorganization of production and distribution in the interests of the working class.
I hope that you will intervene in the developing struggles along these lines.
With the warmest regards,
Nick Beams, national secretary of the Socialist Labour League, the Australian section of the International Committee, who traveled to the Soviet Union last fall.