Socialist Equality Party (UK)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Britain)

Capitalist restoration in the USSR

249. The International Committee’s analysis of the implications of the globalisation of production was developed against the background of Gorbachev’s promise of “democratic reform” in the USSR through Glasnost and Perestroika. Basing itself on Trotsky’s historic analysis of the Stalinist bureaucracy as a counter-revolutionary caste, the IC insisted that Gorbachev’s programme represented a reactionary attempt to overcome the crisis of the isolated Soviet economy through the destruction of the nationalised property relations and the restoration of capitalism. Its warnings were confirmed by the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991, the establishment of the capitalist market, and the subsequent transformation of the leading figures within the Stalinist state, industry and party apparatus into criminal oligarchs. This process was replicated across the “Eastern bloc”.

250. The destruction of the Soviet Union was a political blow against the international working class. However, the International Committee rejected the claim that it represented the triumph of the capitalist market and proof that there was no alternative to the profit system. The USSR had been the first to collapse because of the extreme level of economic autarky practiced by the Stalinist bureaucracy. But the same contradictions between the nation state and the global economy were at work internationally. The chain of imperialism had broken at its weakest link, signifying the opening of a new period of economic dislocation, inter-imperialist antagonisms and a renewed drive to re-divide the world through colonial wars of conquest―an appraisal confirmed by the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

251. The International Committee insisted that the complete transition by the Stalinist bureaucracy into the camp of imperialism held universal significance. The phenomenon of renunciationism found expression in the transformation of the trade unions into direct appendages of management and the disavowal by the social democratic parties of their previous commitment to social reforms. To define them any longer as workers’ organisations was to blind the working class to reality:

“What has occurred in the former Soviet Union is a manifestation of an international phenomenon. All over the world the working class is confronted with the fact that the trade unions, parties and even states, which they created in an earlier period, have been transformed into the direct instruments of imperialism. The days are over when the labour bureaucracies ‘mediated’ the class struggle and played the role of buffer between the classes. Though the bureaucracies generally betrayed the historical interests of the working class, they still, in a limited sense, served its daily practical needs; and, to that extent, ‘justified’ their existence as leaders of the working class organisations. That period is over. The bureaucracy cannot play any such independent role in the present period”.[1]

252. This appraisal was in marked contrast to the positions of the various Pabloite groupings, whose defence of Stalinism now assumed the form of a direct apology for the counter-revolutionary liquidation of the Soviet Union. Tariq Ali’s book Revolution from above: Where is the Soviet Union going? (1988) was dedicated to Boris Yeltsin, who was praised for his “political courage”. Glasnost and Perestroika, Ali added, “would represent an enormous gain for socialists and democrats on a world scale.” When capitalism was finally restored, he declared that “the game was up for another four or five decades”.

253. The Militant Tendency also took the position that Gorbachev represented a “‘reforming’ wing of the bureaucracy, not a conscious agent of imperialism”.[2] Only when it became impossible to conceal the drive to restoration did Militant editor Peter Taaffe come into conflict with Grant’s analysis. Even then, Taaffe was to complain that Yeltsin represented a break with Stalinism’s previous “relatively progressive role”, while claiming that capitalist restoration was “the most unlikely scenario”.[3] Cliff’s SWP similarly aligned itself with the capitalist restorationist wing of the Soviet bureaucracy, hailing its “democratic reforms”. Once capitalism had been reintroduced, at terrible cost to the working class, Chris Harman declared that “the transition from state-capitalism to multinational capitalism is neither a step forward nor a step backwards, but a step sidewards”.[4]


David North, The End of the USSR (1992), Labor Publications, p. 20.


Peter Taaffe, The Rise of Militant (1995), Militant Publications, p. 331.


ibid., pp. 326-329.


The storm breaks, International Socialism, Spring 1990, p. 46.