Collapse of the Eastern Bloc: The definitive bankruptcy of Stalinism
Presentation to the Theses on the Economic and Political Crisis in the USSR and the Eastern Countries
The "Theses" published in this issue were adopted at the beginning of October 1989. Since then, events in the East have rushed ahead, telescoping into each other week after week, leading to situations which would have seemed inconceivable only 6 months ago. Hardly has August, which saw the trade union (!) Solidarnosc leaping from clandestinity to head the government, drawn to a close than Eastern Europe is shaken by other events of great historical importance.
Hungary, whose "communist" party has changed its name and declared its desire to become social-democratic, has thrown the, cloak of "people's democracy" and its membership of the "socialist" camp into the dustbin of history, to become a plain republic. This year in East Germany, supposedly the most stalwart member of the Eastern bloc, more than 100,000 people belonging to the most qualified sectors of the workforce, have abandoned "real socialism" for West Germany; nonetheless, increasingly massive demonstrations are developing in every city, demanding pell-mell free elections, the legalisation of the opposition, and the freedom to travel. Honecker has been forced to resign, to be definitively expelled only a few weeks later from a party which has been forced to renounce its role of exclusive leadership and to open the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the strengthening in 1961 of the division decided at Yalta in 1944. In Bulgaria, then in Czechoslovakia, the regimes inherited from Stalinism are also collapsing. This acceleration of the situation, these convulsions generalising throughout the Eastern countries, confirm the framework set out in the Theses as to Stalinism's historic crisis and its roots. Moreover, the speed with which events are moving means that what was then only a perspective is now a reality: the definitive collapse of Stalinism and the complete disintegration of the Eastern bloc, to the point of becoming a fiction fit only for the dustbin of history.
This situation, where the USSR and Eastern Europe no longer form an imperialist bloc, is the most important historical turning point since World War II and the historic resurgence of proletarian combat at the end of the 60's, both on the imperialist level (all the imperialist groupings that emerged from the Yalta agreements will be seriously destabilised), and on the level of what remains more than ever the only alternative to the decomposition, barbarity, and growing chaos provoked by the historic crisis of the capitalist system on a world level: the proletarian struggle.
The bankruptcy of Stalinism: a crisis of capitalism, not of communism
The Theses develop at some length what lies at the roots of this bankruptcy:
- the overall, worldwide crisis of the capitalist mode of production;
- the failure of the extreme, caricatural form of state capitalism represented by Stalinism, which was both a factor in, and a product of the counter-revolution in Russia.
This aberrant nature of Stalinism has only increased the difficulties of already weak and backward national capitals in confronting the crisis and the consequent exacerbation of competition on the already over-saturated world market. We will not here go any further into the roots of Stalinism and the Eastern bloc's definitive collapse; rather, we will aim to bring its evolution up to date.
Recent events have been the occasion for a barrage of lies, and in the lead the biggest and vilest of them: the claim that this crisis represents the failure of communism, and of marxism! Over and above their various antagonisms, democrats and Stalinists have always formed a holy alliance in saying to the workers that socialism (however deformed) reigns in the East. For Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, for the entire marxist movement, communism has always meant the end of the exploitation of man by man, the end of classes, the end of frontiers, all made possible only on a world scale, in a society governed by the abundance of "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs", where "the government of men gives way to the administration of things". The claim that there is anything "communist", or even approaching "communism", in the USSR and the countries of the Eastern bloc, ruled by exploitation, poverty, and generalised scarcity, is the greatest lie in the history of humanity.
In the East, the Stalinists have only been able to impose this lie by means of the most brutal terror. "Socialism in one country" was set up and defended at the price of an appalling and bloody counter-revolution, which first systematically liquidated everything that remained of October 1917 and above all of the Bolshevik Party in Stalin's jails, before subjecting tens of millions of human beings to deportation and death. This ferocious dictatorship, this hideous concentrate of the worst barbarity of decadent capitalism, owes its existence to two weapons only: terror, and the lie.
This lie is an important asset to all the fractions of the bourgeoisie faced with the nightmare "specter of communism", the threat posed to their domination by the proletarian revolution. The revolution of October 1917 in Russia, and the world revolutionary wave that followed it up until the 1920's has been up to now the only point in history where the proletariat has overthrown (in Russia 1917), or really threatened (Germany in 1919), bourgeois rule. Since then the ability to identify the proletarian revolution of October with its own executioner, the Stalinist counter-revolution has been a major advantage for all our fine "democrats" in defending bourgeois order. For several decades, the proletariat's positive identification, thanks to the immense prestige of October, of the revolution with Stalinism, communism with the Eastern bloc, was the most powerful ideological factor responsible for its continued powerlessness. This was how it was led to the slaughter in World War II, precisely in the name of the defense of the "socialist" camp, allied for the occasion to the "democratic" camp against fascism, after being allied to Hitler at the beginning of the war. The proletariat has never been as weak as when the Stalinists were strong, and still crowned with the halo of Red October. But as this belief in the supposedly socialist nature of the USSR crumbled under the blows of the recovery of class struggle in both East and West following 1968, to the point of a deep-seated rejection of Stalinism throughout the proletariat, it was still more vital for the "democracies" to keep alive the monstrous fiction of "socialism" in the East. As the spur of the renewed open capitalist crisis, on a world scale, pushed the workers to enlarge and strengthen their combat against the bourgeoisie and its system, as more and more the question was posed of what perspective the working class should give to its combat, the bourgeoisie had absolutely to avoid any encouragement of the revolutionary perspective within the proletariat by the exposure of history's greatest lie: the identification between Stalinism and communism.
This is why it is more than ever important for the ruling class to keep up this fiction. After being used "positively", this monstrous association between "revolution" and "Stalinism" is now being used negatively, to create disgust for any idea of a revolutionary perspective. At the very moment when, for the whole of humanity, the historic alternative between socialism and endless barbarism is being posed more and more sharply, it is vital for the bourgeoisie to discredit the communist perspective in the workers' eyes as much as it can.
This is why, as Stalinism collapses for good, the "democrats" are redoubling their efforts to keep this disgusting lie alive: "October 1917 = Stalinism", "marxism = Stalinism", "USSR = communism". There are no bounds to the cynicism of the ruling class, as it displays the pictures of tens of thousands of workers fleeing from "socialism" to get to the countries of "abundance and liberty" that the Western capitalist "democracies" are supposed to be. The aim is to discredit in the workers' eyes any perspective for a society other than that based on profit and the exploitation of man by man. "Democracy" is supposed to be, if not the best system, at least the "least bad" system. Finally, and this is a real danger, the ruling class is trying to draw the workers in the East into fighting for interests that are not their own, to join the struggle between the cliques of "reformers" and Stalinists - Gorbachev and Yeltsin against Ligachev in the USSR, "New Forum" against SED in East Germany, etc -- not to mention between the different "nationalities".
Every time that the working class has fallen into this kind of trap, it has ended up not only gaining nothing, but being massacred, as it was in the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War, for the mirage of the bourgeois "republic". In reality, Stalinists and "democrats", Stalinists and "anti-Stalinists" are nothing but two facets of a same face: the face of bourgeois dictatorship. We should remember that during World War II, the British and American "democracies" had no compunction in allying themselves with Stalin against Germany. Their opposition since then, which has led to the world's division into two antagonistic spheres of influence, does not spring from an ideological opposition, between a "socialist" and a capitalist bloc. It is the expression of two capitalist and imperialist blocs which have become rivals.
Only when the USSR took advantage of the collapse of German imperialism to transform its inherited European sphere of influence into an imperialist bloc did the "democracies" suddenly discover that they had a duty to oppose this "totalitarian", "communist" system. Before the war, the USSR was only an isolated second-rate power; then, it was possible to ally with this same "totalitarian and communist" system. This was no longer the case in the 50's, now that the USSR had become a first-order imperialist power, and therefore a serious imperialist rival!
This is why, while the proletariat must reject with disgust Stalinism and the Stalinists, it must also reject the camp of the "democrats" and "anti-Stalinists". There is nothing to choose between them; if the proletariat does so, then it can only abandon its class terrain and become the hostage and powerless victim, in a struggle which is nothing to do with it, of the two capitalist hangmen of the proletarian revolution: Stalinism, and "democracy".
Never forget, that it was the Social-Democracy which crushed the revolution in Germany in 1919 and 1923, condemning the Russian revolution to a terrible isolation, and so opening the way to Stalinism and fascism.
The end of the Russian imperialist bloc, the end of Yalta: towards worldwide chaos
Stalinism's collapse cannot but provoke profound and widespread convulsions, to the point where they create a situation of veritable chaos in what was up to now the world's second imperialist power.
Day by day, the bourgeoisie is losing control of events.
The trade union Solidarnosc joins the Polish government, with the declared aim of "liberalising the economy" and "drawing closer" to the West; unable to prevent it, Moscow pretends to encourage the move.
The Stalinist party in power in Hungary changes its name, proclaims itself social-democratic, and demands neutral status for the country, as well as membership of the Council of Europe, one of the West's most important organisms. This comes down to leaving the Warsaw Pact: Gorbachev sends a telegram of congratulations.
In Bulgaria, in Czechoslovakia, in East Germany, the old Stalinists are pushed aside. East Germany opens its frontiers, and hundreds of thousands of people rush to escape.
Everywhere (except in Romania at the time of writing), changes are happening daily, any one of which, only a few years ago, would have brought in the Russian tanks. This is not as it is generally presented, the result of a deliberate policy on Gorbachev's part, but the sign of a general crisis throughout the bloc, at the same time as Stalinism's historic bankruptcy. The rapidity of events, and the fact that they are now hitting East Germany, the central pillar of the Eastern bloc, is the surest sign that the world's second imperialist bloc has completely disintegrated.
This change is by now irreversible, and affects not just the bloc, but its leading power, the USSR itself. The clearest sign of Russia's collapse is the development of nationalism in the form of demands for "autonomy" and "independence" in the peripheral regions of central Asia, on the Baltic coast, and also in a region as vital for the Soviet national economy as the Ukraine.
Now when the leader of an imperialist bloc is no longer able to maintain the bloc's cohesion, or even to maintain order within its own frontiers, it loses its status as a world power. The USSR and its bloc are no longer at the centre of the inter-imperialist antagonisms between two capitalist camps, which is the ultimate level of polarisation that imperialism can reach on a world scale in the era of capitalist decadence.
The disintegration of the Eastern bloc, its disappearance as a major consideration in inter-imperialist conflict, implies a radical calling into question of the Yalta agreements, and the spread of instability to all the imperialist constellations formed on that basis, including the Western bloc which the USA has dominated for the last 40 years. This in its turn will find its foundations called into question. During the 1980's, the cohesion of the Western countries against the Russian bloc was an important factor in the latter's collapse; today, the cement for that cohesion no longer exists. Although it is impossible to foresee exactly the rhythm and forms that this will take, the perspective today is one of growing tension between the great powers of the Western bloc, the eventual reconstitution of two new imperialist blocs at an international level, and in the absence of any proletarian response a new worldwide massacre. The definitive collapse of Stalinism, and its corollary, the disintegration of the Eastern imperialist bloc, are thus already pregnant with the destabilisation of all the imperialist groupings that emerged from Yalta.
The calling into question of the imperialist' order inherited from World War II, and the fact that the formation of two new imperialist camps will inevitably take time, does not at all mean the disappearance of imperialist tensions. The generalised crisis of the capitalist mode of production can only push all countries, both great and small, and within them the different fractions of the ruling class, to try to settle their differences on the battlefield. The Lebanon, Afghanistan, Cambodia, El Salvador, etc are still torn by war today. Far from encouraging peace, the disintegration of the blocs which emerged from Yalta, and the decomposition of the capitalist system which underlies it, implies still more tension and conflicts. The appetites of the minor imperialisms, which up to now have been determined by the world's division into two major camps, will only increase, now that these camps are no longer dominated by their leaders as before.
Stalinism is not dying a peaceful death, giving way to other "democratic" forms of bourgeois dictatorship. There will be chaos, not a "soft" transition. As the Stalinist carcass rots, the whole Eastern bloc is threatened with "Lebanonisation". The confrontations between rival cliques of bourgeois nationalists in the USSR itself, the tensions between Hungary and Romania, East Germany and Czechoslovakia, Romania and the USSR, East Germany and Poland, etc, the beginnings of pogroms that we are witnessing today in Moldavia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, open a perspective of generalised decomposition, a concentrated form of all the barbarity of decadent capitalism.
Implications for the proletariat of the Eastern Bloc's general decomposition
Behind the reforms, the democratisation, the attempts to liberalise the economy, behind all the fine speeches about the "radiant future", the reality for the workers is already a serious decline in their already difficult living conditions. In Poland and the USSR, everything is in short supply; even in Moscow and Leningrad, which are traditionally better stocked, such staples as sugar and soap have become almost impossible to find. More and more articles are rationed, and the rations are diminishing. The winter will be extremely hard: the measures of liberalisation decided in Poland and Hungary, and begun in the USSR, mean that scarcity will continue and that the black market will become inaccessible for the workers, since the rate of inflation is moving towards three figures, as in Poland, and the ending of price controls affects staple products first of all. The liberalisation of the economy, and its corollary, autonomy for individual enterprises will mean the appearance and growth of mass unemployment. The extent of this unemployment can be measured if we consider that in Poland one third of all workers will be made redundant if non-profitable companies are forced to close (according to the Solidarnosc government's own economic experts).
In the USSR, where there are already in reality several million unemployed, between 11 and 12 million workers will have to be made redundant in the next five years. More than half the factories in Hungary should be closed because they are obsolete and uncompetitive! What the immediate future holds in store for the proletariat in the East is thus a terrible poverty, comparable to that in "Third World" countries.
Faced with these attacks, the proletariat will fight, and will try to resist, like for example the Siberian miners, who have gone back on strike to demand that the government respect the agreements negotiated after the strikes this summer. There are, and there will be, more strikes. But the question is: what will be the context in which these strikes occur? There can be no ambiguity as to the reply: one of extreme confusion due to the Eastern working class' political weakness and inexperience, which will make the workers especially vulnerable to the mystifications of democracy and trade unions, and to the poison of nationalism. We can see this already in Poland and Hungary, or in the USSR where Russian workers are striking against Baltic workers and vice versa, or in the struggles between Azeris and Armenians.
Undoubtedly the most tragic symbol of the Eastern proletariat's political backwardness is the events in East Germany. Here is the proletariat of a highly industrialised country, right in the heart of Europe, which fought at the forefront of the German revolution in 1919 (in Saxony and Thuringia), and which was the first to express its rejection of Stalinism in 1953, and which today is demonstrating en masse, but totally drowned in the population as a whole. "Gorby! Gorby!", they chant, demanding pell-mell democracy, the legalisation of the opposition, but never, even in embryonic form, putting forward the specific demands of the working class. It is a terrible thing to see the German working class "organised" behind the Lutheran church, and drowned in "the people" in general!
There is such a strong, gut hatred of Stalinism, that even the word "proletariat" seems cursed, contaminated by the rotting carrion of Stalinism.
As it dies, Stalinism poisons the atmosphere, and in doing so renders the bourgeoisie one last and precious service, by condemning in the eyes of workers in the East the very idea of raising specific working class demands; just the idea of revolution is transformed into a disgusting nightmare.
This heritage of the Stalinist counter-revolution weighs terribly. Even if there can be no doubt that the workers' combativity in the East will rise to confront the increasingly intolerable attacks on its living conditions, the class' consciousness will have immense difficulty in moving forward. We cannot exclude the possibility that large fractions of the working class will let themselves be enrolled and massacred for interests that are totally foreign to them, in the struggles between nationalist gangs, or between "democratic" and Stalinist cliques.
Internationally, the whole proletariat has to confront increased difficulties in the development of its class consciousness as a result of this new situation (see the article on this subject, published in this issue).
We are entering a completely new period, which will profoundly modify both the present imperialist constellations (the Western bloc will also be affected, though to a lesser degree and at a less frenetic pace, by convulsions and instability; this is inevitable to the extent that its main reason for existing - the other bloc - has disappeared) and the conditions in which the class has fought up to now.
At first, this will be a difficult period for the proletariat. Apart from the increased weight of democratic mystifications, in the West as well as in the East, it will have to understand the new conditions within which it is fighting. This will inevitably take time, whence the depth of the "reflux" analysed in the Theses. In particular, the proletariat will have to confront head-on the democratic mystification, and especially its two most pernicious pillars: social-democracy and the trade unions.
Only the working class at the heart of capitalism, above all in Western Europe, is really capable of combating this mystification. Consequently, its historic responsibility has grown considerably, on the same scale as the fantastic acceleration of history during the last few months. Only the Western working class, through the development of its struggles, can really help the workers in the East to overcome the deadly trap of democratic illusions which yawns before them.
More than ever, the economic crisis remains the proletariat's best ally, the stimulant for the unavoidable confrontation with "democracy". The perspective of a new open recession, whose symptoms can be seen developing rapidly today (see the article on the crisis in this issue), by speeding up the collapse at the heart of capitalism in the West, by sweeping away illusions in an economic recovery, and by laying bare the historic bankruptcy of the whole capitalist mode of production and not just of its Stalinist avatars, will help the proletariat to understand on the one hand that the crisis and collapse in the East is only an expression of the capitalist system's general crisis, and on the other that it alone holds the solution to capitalism's historic crisis and generalised decomposition.
The redoubled attacks on its living conditions will not only force the working class to renew and spread its struggles; they will clearly reveal the utter bankruptcy of "liberal" and "democratic" capitalism, and so force the proletariat to struggle within what remains the only real perspective: the world communist revolution. More than ever, in this chaos, the future belongs to the proletariat.
RN : 19/11/89