Eastern Europe: Economic crisis and the bourgeoisie's weapons against the proletariat

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The workers' struggle in Poland was a striking demonstration for workers the world over that the so-called ‘socialist paradise' of the East­ern bloc is only another face of the capitalist hell that maintains the yoke of human exploita­tion throughout the planet.

The myth of the ‘socialist' countries has had a long life. In fact, all sectors of the bourg­eoisie, from East to West, have an interest in its survival whether as a theme to enroll the workers in imperialist wars or as a means to disgust them with the idea of ‘socialism' and turn them away from any perspective of social transformation. For fifty years revolutionaries have fought unceasingly against this mystifica­tion which was the most effective weapon of the terrible counter-revolution that struck down the world proletariat in the ‘20s and which lasted until the end of the ‘60s.

But as Marx said, "one real step forward of the real movement is worth a dozen programs." In this sense, the workers' struggles of summer 1980 have done more to clarify the consciousness of the international proletariat than decades of propaganda from communist groups. And it's not finished ... Under the repeated blows of the world economic crisis, the bourgeoisie's mystifi­cations crack and collapse -- and that of the supposed ‘socialism' of the Eastern bloc in particular. What has happened to the Eastern bloc's supposed ‘economic prosperity', to the magnificent development of the productive forces so vaunted by stalinists and trotskyists alike? What is the condition of the proletariat in this ‘workers' paradise', where exploitation and the bourgeoisie are supposed no longer to exist?

We deal with this question in the first of the two articles below.

The powerful proletarian struggles in Poland did more than simply confirm what revolutionaries have been saying for decades. They have also, as we said in IR 27, brought to the fore front "cer­tain problems that have not yet been decisively resolved in practice, even though they have long been posed at the theoretical level." In this article we mentioned among others the problems of "the kind of bourgeois weapons that the work­ing class will have to confront in the Russian bloc", and more especially the contradiction between, on the one hand the ruling class' need to use (as it does in the West) a left in oppos­ition with the task of sabotaging the workers' struggles from the inside, and on the other the stalinist regimes' inability to tolerate an organized opposition.

The declaration of the state of martial law in December 1981 and the official ban laid on Solid­arnosc in October 1982 have made it possible to add further elements to this question. These elements are put forward in the second article.

The crisis of capitalism and its offensive against the workers

The Eastern bloc plunges into the economic crisis

For any capitalist business, inability to pay its debts means bankruptcy. Even if states can­not shut up shop in the same way as a company does, the inability of Poland and Romania to repay debts incurred with western banks on the world market reveals capitalism's economic bank­ruptcy in the East, just as the similar situa­tion in Mexico or Brazil does so in the West. The Russian bloc's indebtedness has grown con­siderably in recent years to reach extraordinary sums:

-- the Polish debt of over $25 billion represents a third of the annual GNP;

-- the same is true of the Romanian debt of $10 billion.

During the ‘70s the bourgeoisie in the East, like their colleagues in the West, resorted to credit in an attempt to conceal and retard the economic deadline of a collapse in production. Debts, however, must always be paid and the attempt to cheat the law of value is today coming to its limits. As in the West, Eastern capitalism has gone into recession.

It is very difficult to give complete confidence to the official figures supplied by the bourgeoisie; this is true in general and especially in Russia. Nonetheless, their evolution corresponds exactly to what is happening in the Western bloc. For 1982, the official figure for growth in nat­ional income will be 2%, this is the lowest level ever and follows a continuous drop spanning several years. This rate of growth would have to be doubled in order to carry out the ambitious 5-year plan decided under Brezhnev. Industrial growth has been at its lowest since the war: in 1982 production of steel, cement and plastics fell relative to previous years. Debt and rec­ession -- the only thing missing from the picture is inflation, and we find ourselves once more with the same characteristics of capitalist crisis as in the West. Well, this inflation also exists in the East! Without speaking of the inflation in consumer prices, which we'll come back to, prices rose throughout industry an average 13.4%: the rise was 42% for coal, 20% for steel products, 70% for thermal energy[1].

The same factors are thus at work both East and West; the world economic crisis' devastating effects on capitalist production are accelerat­ing. The economically weaker Eastern bloc suffers the effects of the crisis more deeply. The USSR's GNP per inhabitant is lower than that of Greece; East Germany's -- that of the most developed country in the Russian bloc -- is roughly equal to Spain's. Economically under­developed, the Russian bloc has not the slightest chance of achieving any kind of economic competitivity in a period of worldwide over­production; it has great difficulty in selling its products on the world market. This is not a novelty for Russia and its bloc, arriving as it did too late on the scene of world capitalism. The myth of overtaking the West, so much pushed by Stalin and Khrushchev, is long since dead! Today the economic crisis is baring all the lies, and showing up all the weaknesses of capitalism in Russia and its satellites.

In these conditions, the tendency that has all­owed the Russian bloc to survive since its creation is further accentuated: the ever-greater concentration of the economy in the hands of the state at the service of the war economy.

The growth of war economy

Since the Eastern bloc cannot rival the West economically, its only means of keeping its place on the world scene is to develop its war economy, to mobilize its whole productive appar­atus for military production. This phenomenon has existed since Stalin, but has been still further accentuated in recent years.

Confronted with the West's economic and military pressure, the USSR has no choice other than the increasing sacrifice of its economy to war prod­uction.

Let's take an example: transportation is one of the black spots of Russian capitalism, paralyzing all economic activity. Lack of equipment is the main reason for the transport sector's inad­equacy -- and yet freight-car production in 1982 was scarcely higher than in 1970. This might seem a paradox, in view of the fact that 4/5 of land transport goes to the railway network. But it is easier to understand when we add that freight-car ­production was sacrificed to give priority to satisfying military needs (the main rolling-stock factory, at Niznij Taghil, also builds tanks).

What is true for rolling-stock is true for the rest of the Russian economy; in every factory, military production has absolute priority which blocks the whole of production. Unlike capital goods which are used in a new cycle of produc­tion, and unlike consumer goods which serve to reproduce labor-power, weapons are useless in the production process. This means that massive arms production is equivalent to a gigantic destruction of capital, which can only sharpen the effects of the crisis.

The USSR alone is responsible for 40% of world military production while producing only 10% of Gross World Product. This country can only keep its place on the world scene at the cost of a constantly growing military effort which further deepens its economic bankruptcy.

Exact figures are hard to come by since all things military are necessarily secret. Accord­ing to ‘Military Balance', Russian military spending is equivalent to the GNP of Spain (about £90 billion). This means that in Russia, the production of a country the size of Spain is destroyed in the arms economy -- without count­ing the cost of the resulting economic disorganization, ie at least 20-30%, of production.

For the proletariat in the Russian bloc, the choice between ‘butter or guns' takes on a form of caricature. For the proletariat, the combined effects of the war economy and the crisis mean a constantly growing misery in the ‘workers' para­dise'.

Austerity for the working class

The official absence of inflation and unemploy­ment has always been major arguments for the stalinist and trotskyists in affirming the ‘socialist gains' of workers in the Eastern bloc. In reality, for the working class in the so-called ‘socialist' countries, austerity is a euphemism. The misery of its economic and social condition no longer needs demonstrating, and the bourgeoisie's current attack on the workers' living standards means an even more austere austerity.

The Russian bourgeoisie itself is no longer able to hide the reality between faked figures. Officially, in the USSR 1982 saw zero growth in working class purchasing power. The avalanche of price increases has finally exposed the myth of the lack of inflation in the Eastern bloc. The explosion of discontent in Poland was sparked off by brutal price increases on foodstuffs forming the workers' staple diet, with some increases going as high as 100%. The working class' living standards were brutally attacked; as in the West, the prices of consumer goods are rising but with scarcity and draconian rationing of most products into the bargain. More and more guns always mean less and less butter.

As for full employment, it does indeed exist. But it is not the product of the ruling class' generosity in not leaving the poor workers unemployed. This full employment expresses the scarcity of capital, the lack of machines and the paralysis of the productive apparatus. All the capital that is not invested in constant capital that is destroyed in the production of war machines is replaced by ‘human capital'. Elbow grease replaces machine oil. Moreover, living standards are so low that workers are generally obliged to have two jobs and do a double day's work to ensure their and their family's survival.

Full employment is also a means for maintaining a draconian supervision of the proletariat. Andropov's arrival in power has been followed by increased surveillance in the work-place: clock­ing-on, identity checks and controls of presence on the job, ‘raids' in the shops to see that workers are not doing their shopping during work­ing hours, etc ... all in the police tradition of this one-time boss of the KGB. All this in the name of the struggle for productivity, against absenteeism and slackness. Labor disc­ipline is a constant theme of Russian state propaganda and indicates an increased repression of the working class.

In the Eastern bloc, as in the West, the ‘80s are marked by a vicious attack on the working class' living conditions.

Forms may differ (policed full employment, scarcity, rationing), but the fundamentals re­main the same -- the capitalist crisis and the war economy -- and the consequences for the work­ing class are the same in each bloc: an over­growing misery.

Confronted with this situation, the workers in Poland have shown the example of the class struggle. This example will not remain isolated. Under the pressure of the crisis, the bourgeoisie East and West is forced to attack the working class ever harder.

Such a situation generalized throughout the planet must necessarily lead the proletariat to develop its class struggle.



The weapons of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat

For revolutionaries, the proletarian struggles of 1980-81 in Poland came as no surprise. Those who have upheld the firm defense of Marxist principles, against desertions and onslaughts of every kind, have known and said for decades that the so-called ‘socialist' countries are as capitalist as all the others, that their economies are subject to the same contradictions that afflict capitalism as a whole, that the working class is exploited and struggles against its exploitation there as everywhere else. They have understood, and have announced before their class, that since the mid-‘60s world capitalism has used up the respite accorded by the post-war recon­struction period, and has entered a new phase of acute economic convulsions, which will leave no country immune, and which will every­where provoke proletarian counter-attacks. In the May ‘68 general strike in France, the ‘hot autumn' in Italy ‘69, the 1970 uprising in Poland, and in the numerous other movements between 1968 and ‘74, they were able to recognize the first of these counter-attacks, and to foresee that these struggles would not be the last.

However, the immense movement of 1980, while it confirmed their analyses, demanded from revolutionaries prudence and humility in con­fronting situations unlike anything we have seen up till now. So that, while we analyzed the development of the independent trade union Solidarnosc as the Polish form of the policy of the left in opposition put into action by the bourgeoisie on a world scale to sabotage and stifle the workers' struggles, we were careful to avoid proclaiming that the Eastern bloc countries were going to evolve towards the ‘democratic' political forms that exist in the advanced Western countries.

"...the confrontations between Solidarity and the Polish CP aren't just cinema, just as the opposition between right and left in the western countries isn't just cinema. In the west, however, the existing institutional framework generally makes it possible to ‘make do' with these oppositions so they don't threaten the stability of the regime, and so that inter-bourgeois struggles for power are contained within, and resolved by, the formula most appropriate for dealing with the proletarian enemy. In Poland on the other hand, although the ruling class has, using a lot of improvisations, but with some mom­entary success, managed to install these kinds of mechanisms, there's no indication that this is something definitive and capable of being exported to other ‘socialist' countries. The same invective which serves to give credibility to your friendly enemy when the main­tenance of order demands it, can be used to crush your erstwhile partner when he's no longer any use to you ... By forcing the bourgeoisie to adopt a division of labor to which it is structurally inadapted, the prole­tarian struggles in Poland have created a living contradiction. It's still too early to see how it will turn out. Faced with a situation unprecedented in history.... the task of revolutionaries is to approach the unfolding events in a modest manner". (International Review, no. 27, 3/10/81).

Since then, events have spoken. The military coup of 13th December 1981 suspended all activity on Solidarnosc's part. On 8th October 1982, the Polish Diet (Parliament) banned it definitively. How are we to interpret these events?

Is this ban revocable, as the leaders of the underground Solidarnosc claim? -- the same leaders who mix radical declarations with continued appeals for a ‘national entente' and for ‘trade union liberty'.

Does the outlawing of Solidarnosc mean that this organization is no longer of any use to capital?

More generally, what kind of weapons do and will the bourgeoisie use against the workers' struggles in the Eastern bloc. Will they play the card of the left in opposition? Within what limits and with what specific­ities?

Can the Eastern bloc regimes ‘democratize' themselves?

Solidarnosc's 15 months of legality apparent­ly answered the affirmative. This was the period when Kuron, theoretician of the KOR, waxed eloquent on the prospects for democratization in Poland ‘along Spanish lines'. This perspective was at the heart of all Solidarnosc's propaganda: it was necessary to accept economic ‘sacrifices', not to ‘abuse' the strike weapon, to be ‘responsible' and ‘moderate' in order to preserve and extend the ‘democratic gains' of the Gdansk agree­ment.

Since then, history has shown that this ‘mode­ration' has done nothing for ‘democracy', and everything to prepare the ground for the work­er's defeat and the repression that has hit them since December 1981.

In fact, the proclamation of the state of war went further than a mere concretization of this defeat. Like all repression, it aimed to inflict a vicious ‘punishment' on the proletariat, to intimidate it, and to deprive it, through terror, of any taste for struggle. But it also aimed to outlaw Solid­arnosc -- the main agent of the workers' demobilization and defeat.

Poland 1981 is not the only defeat the prole­tariat has suffered since its historic reapp­earance in 1968. In particular, the May ‘68 trial of strength between proletariat and bourgeoisie in France ended in a victory for the latter. As we know, the main instruments of this defeat were the trade unions, especi­ally the CGT controlled by the French CP. And logically enough, the unions were rewarded by the employers' recognition of the union sect­ion in the factory; the CGT even got an extra little present, in the form of the renewal of a government subsidy that it had lost several years previously. In Poland, by contrast, Solidarnosc got no reward for its loyal serv­ices between 1980 and 1981. Quite the oppos­ite: its main leaders were imprisoned, and while the most famous of them is now at liber­ty and back in his old job, many still remain in Jaruzelski's gaols -- Guriazda, Jurczyk, Modzelewski, Julewski, along with the leaders of the KOR like Kuron and Michnik. Does this mean that the bourgeoisie is less grateful in the East than in the West? It's certainly not a question of gratitude. The bourgeoisie has long since disencumbered itself of such sentiments, "and has left remaining no nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment'. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies...in the icy water of egotistical calculation" (Communist Mani­festo). In fact, the main reason that the Polish authorities, unlike their Western colleagues, have not allowed the continued existence of an official or legal opposition is that "the Stalinist regimes cannot safely tolerate the existence of such oppositional forces" to the extent that these "are a foreign body... that every fiber of their organism rejects" (International Review, no. 24).

This means that, while it is only possible to understand the meaning and the implications of events in Poland during the last 3 years by situating them in their international con­text, and by considering them as an important moment in the historic and worldwide confront­ation between the 2 main classes in society -- proletariat and bourgeoisie -- we cannot draw out all their lessons unless we take account of the differences that separate the condi­tions of the class struggle in the Eastern bloc from those in the advanced Western countries.

The most obvious, and the most widely known, characteristic of the Eastern bloc countries -- the one moreover which is the basis for the myth of their ‘socialist' nature -- is the ex­treme statification of their economies. As we have often pointed out in our press, state capitalism is not limited to those countries. This phenomenon springs above all from the conditions for the capitalist mode of produ­ction's survival in its decadent period: faced with the threat of the dislocation of an economy, and a social body, subjected to growing contradictions, faced with the exacerbation of commercial and imperialist rivalries provoked by the saturation of the world market, only a continuous strengthening of the State's power makes it possible to maintain a minimum of social cohesion, and a growing militarization of society. While the tendency towards state capitalism is thus a universal, historical fact, it does not affect all countries in the same way. It takes on its most complete form where capit­alism is subjected to the most brutal contrad­ictions, and where the classical bourgeoisie is at its weakest. In this sense, the state's direct control of the main means of production, characteristic of the Eastern bloc (and of much of the ‘Third World'), is first and foremost a sign of the economy's backwardness and fragility (see the previous article). To the extent that the tendency towards state capitalism is worldwide and irreversible, and that the present convuls­ions of the capitalist economy touch the backward countries still more violently than the others, there is no possibility, in these countries -- and in the Eastern bloc in part­icular -- of relaxing the statification of the economy, which is increasing everywhere, the developed countries included.

We thus have the beginnings of a reply to the question ‘can the Eastern bloc countries democraticize themselves?'in our observation that there can be no return, in these count­ries to the classical forms of capitalism. In fact, there is a close link between the bourgeoisie's economic and political forms of domination: the totalitarian power of a single party corresponds to the near-total statifica­tion of the means of production[2].

One Party

The one-party system is not unique to the Eastern bloc, or to the Third World. It has existed for several decades in Western Europe­an countries such as Italy, Spain, and Portu­gal. The most striking example is obviously the Nazi regime that governed Europe's most powerful and developed nation between 1933 and 1945. In fact, the historical tendency towards state-capitalism does not concern the economy alone. It also appears in a growing concent­ration of political power in the hands of the executive, at the expense of the classical forms of bourgeois democracy -- Parliament, and the interplay of political parties. During the 19th century, the political parties in the dev­eloped countries were the representatives of civil society in or before the state; with the decadence of capitalism, they were transformed into the representatives of the state within civil society[3]. The state's totalitarian tendencies are expressed, even in those count­ries where the formal mechanisms of democracy remain in place, by a tendency towards the one-party system, most clearly concretized during acute convulsions of bourgeois society: ‘Gov­ernment of National Unity' during imperialist wars, unity of the whole bourgeoisie behind the parties of the left during periods of rev­olution, the prolonged and uncontested domin­ation of the Democratic Party in the US 1933­-53, of the Gaullists in France 1958-74, of the Social-Democrats in Sweden 1931-77, etc.

The tendency towards the one-party system has rarely reached its conclusion in the more developed countries. Such a conclusion is unkn­own in the US, Britain, Scandinavia, and Holl­and, while the Vichy government in France dep­ended essentially on the German occupation. The only historical example of a developed country where this tendency has unfolded completely is that of Nazi Germany, and then only for a duration of 12 years -- 18 months less than the Democrats' domination of the United States. The phenomenon of fascism has been fully analyzed since the ‘30s by the Communist Left -- including in previous issues of the International Review.[4] We will therefore limit ourselves here to a brief resume of what brought the Nazi party to power:

-- violent economic convulsions (Germany was harder hit than any other European country by the 1929 crisis);

-- the fact that the working class had been physically crushed during the 1919-23 revol­ution, making the democratic mystification ineffective and unnecessary;

-- the wearing out of the democratic parties that had carried out this counter-revolution;

-- following on the Versailles treaty, the frustration felt by large sectors of the bour­geoisie and petit-bourgeoisie, who deserted their traditional parties in favor of one that promised them their revenge.

If the traditional parties or political structures were maintained in the other advan­ced countries, this was because they had shown themselves solid enough, thanks to their experience, the depth of their implantation, their connections with the economic sphere, and the strength of the mystifications they peddled, to ensure the national capital's stability and cohesion in the difficulties that confronted it (crisis, war, social uph­eaval).

But what is only an exception in the advanced countries is a general rule in the under-developed ones, where the conditions we have outlin­ed do not exist, and which are subjected to the most violent convulsions of decadent capitalism. And the Eastern bloc has a special position amongst the under-developed countries. To the strictly economic factors that go to explain the weight of state capitalism, we added historical and geo-political ones: the circums­tances in which the USSR and its empire were founded.

State capitalism in Russia arose from the ruins of the proletarian revolution. The feeble bourgeoisie of the Tsarist era had been completely eliminated by the 1917 revolution (in fact, it is this very weakness that explains the fact that Russia was the only country where the proletariat succeeded in taking power during the revolutionary wave following World War 1) and by the defeat of the White armies. Thus it was neither this bourgeoisie, nor its traditional parties who took the head of the inevitable counter-revolution that was the result, in Russia itself, of the defeat of the world pro­letariat.

This task fell to the state which came into being following the revolution, and which rapidly absorbed the Bolshevik party -- the party having made the double mistake of sub­stituting itself for the class and of taking on state power.[5] In this way, the bourgeois class was reconstituted not on the basis of the old bourgeoisie (other than exceptionally and individually), nor of private ownership of the means of production, but on the basis of the state/party bureaucracy, and of state ownership of the means of production. In Russia, an accumulation of factors -- the backwardness of the country, the rout of the classic bourgeoi­sie and the physical defeat of the working class (the terror and counter-revolution that it underwent were on the same scale as its revolutionary advance) -- thus drove the overall tendency towards state capitalism to take on its most extreme forms: near-total statificat­ion of the economy and the totalitarian dicta­torship of a single party. Since it no longer had to discipline the different sectors of the dominant class, nor to compromise with their economic interests, since it had absorbed the dominant class to the point of becoming com­pletely identified with it, the state could do away definitively with the classical political forms of bourgeois society (democracy and pluralism), even in pretence.

Imperialist domination

At the end of World War II, when the USSR extended its empire towards Central Europe, and temporarily towards China, it exported its political and ideological ‘model'. Obviously this has nothing to do with ideology as the narrow-minded western bourgeois claims.

The fundamental reason for Russia's installat­ion of regimes like its own in its satellite countries must be sought in its weakness as leader of an imperialist bloc -- a weakness expressed first and foremost at the economic level. While the US was able to strengthen its supremacy over Western Europe by means of Marshall Plan dollars, the USSR had no other way of ensuring its grip on the zones it had occupied militarily than by putting into power parties devoted to it body and soul: the ‘comm­unist' parties. This devotion does not mean that the stalinist parties are simply agents of Russian imperialism: all bourgeois parties are above all parties of national capital.

What sets the stalinists apart is the way they intend to manage this national capital, and to guarentee its external security in a world arena dominated by two imperialist blocs. Being the most determined defenders of the general tendency towards state capitalism, they are, within its political spectrum, the most favorable to their country's insertion in the Russian bloc. This foreign policy orientation is linked to the fact that these parties can only come to power by armed force, generally within an inter-imperialist conflict. In fact, a particular characteristic of the Stalinist parties -- capitalist parties ‘par excellence' -- is their total lack of support from the classic sectors of the bourgeoisie, great or small (from the large and small hol­ders of individual capital) to the extent that their program includes these sectors' expro­priation for the benefit of the state. While in some countries they can count on the support of at least part of the proletariat, they are unable to make very much use of it since the proletariat, deprived of any means of produc­tion, can only constitute a real force within the class by struggling on its own terrain -- ie potentially calling into question the dom­ination all sectors and parties of the bourg­eoisie. The stalinist parties have been able to use workers' struggles to put pressure on other sectors of the bourgeoisie (eg France 1947, where the French CP, having been kicked out of the government in May, hoped to win its place back in the wake of the massive strikes that continued until the end of the year) . But they have never encouraged these struggles to overthrow the government in power: in the end, bourgeois class solidarity has always won the day. This is why the conditions for these parties taking power have been the most favor­able where:

-- the working class was weak, defeated, or enrolled behind the bourgeoisie (the latter case obviously including the former two);

-- they have been able to set themselves up as the best defenders of the national capital, which has allowed them to ally with other sectors of the bourgeoisie who they later eliminated;

-- they have had the help, whether direct or in­direct, of Russian military strength.

These conditions were present during and after World War II, for which the ‘communist' parties were the most effective recruiting-sergeants, in the framework of the ‘resist­ance' movements (except in Poland, where the AK, directed from London, was far more power­ful than the movement directed from Moscow), and where in most cases they were able to count on the support of the ‘red' army. The same conditions were also present in certain wars of decolonization or ‘national indepen­dence' (notably China and Indo-China) , or even in plain military coups d'état (Ethiopia, Afghanistan, etc) .

In fact, the stalinist parties' great capacity for military methods, for leading or transfor­ming themselves into armies, is to be explained by their ultra-militarized structure, and by the capitalist form whose agents they are. The militarization of society is at once a cause and an expression of the historical tendency towards state capitalism. The parties that take this tendency in hand in the most deter­mined way are never happier than when they are confining to barracks, barking orders, enforcing the reign of blind submission to authority through brutalization, terror, firing squads, prisons, special powers, cultivating chauvinism and xenophobia ‑- in a word, all those things that are the glory of the military institution.

In the final analysis, the fact that the USSR -- one of the least developed countries in its bloc -- can only maintain its grip on its empire by force of arms determines the fact that the ruling regimes in the satellite countries (as in Russia) can only maintain their grip on society by the same armed force (army and po­lice). To some extent, the link between the USSR and the countries in its bloc is of the same variety as that between the USA and the ‘banana republics' of Latin America: the regimes of these latter are detested by the majority of the population, and only survive thanks to direct or indirect US military aid. In exchange, the US can count on their comp­lete devotion to its economic and military interests. However, for the US this kind of control over their bloc is of secondary imp­ortance. The United States, by far the most developed country in its bloc, and the world's foremost economic and financial power, ensures its domination over the principal countries of its empire -- themselves fully developed nations -- without having to apply constant military force, just as these countries can do without an ever-present repression to ensure their own stability. The American bloc's mainstay is the military might of the United States -- the most powerful country in the world. But this mil­itary power is not set into motion to preser­ve America's domination of these countries, nor their internal stability, whether direc­tly (as in Hungary ‘56, or in Czechoslovakia ‘68), or as a means of intimidation (Poland 80-81). The dominant sectors of the main western bourgeoisies adhere ‘voluntarily' to the American alliance: they get economic, financial, political and military advantages out of it (such as the American ‘umbrella' against Russian imperialism). In this sense, there is no ‘spontaneous inclination' amongst the major nations of the US bloc to pass over to the other side, in the same way as other movements in the opposite direction (the change of camp in Yugoslavia 1948 or China at the end of the ‘60s, the attempts in Hungary ‘56 or Czechoslovakia ‘68). The USA's strength and stability allows it to tolerate the existence of all kinds of regimes within its bloc: from ‘communist' China to the very ‘anti-communist' Pinochet, from the Turkish military dictatorship to the very ‘democratic' Great Britain, from the 200-year old French republic to the Saudian feudal monarchy, and from Franco's Spain to a social-democratic one. By contrast, the USSR's weakness and military backwardness prevents it from controlling other than military or stalinist regimes. As a res­ult:

-- while a stalinist regime can always envisage ‘passing to the West' without risking any internal disorder, a ‘democratic' regime is un­likely to survive as such if it ‘passes to the East';

-- while the American bloc can quite well ‘man­age' the ‘democratization' of a fascist or military regime whenever necessary (Japan, Germ­any, Italy following World War II; Portugal, Greece, Spain during the ‘70s), the USSR can tolerate no ‘democratization' within its bloc.

An impossible ‘democratization'

The ‘Spanish model' recommended by Kuron is thus every bit as absurd as Walesa's proposal to turn Poland into a ‘second Japan'. It is doubly meaningless:

1) despite the importance of the state sector, the classical bourgeoisie in Spain had kept control of the decisive sectors of the national capital: the change in regime had no effect on this partition of the economy, nor on the privileges of any sector of the dominant classes, whichever political force might be in control of the state (the Centre or the Social-Democratic); by contrast, any ‘democratization' in Poland would mean the immediate loss by the present bourgeoisie, to the extent that it is fused with the leadership of the Party, and that all its powers and pri­vileges depend on the Party is complete dom­ination of the state, on the fusion of these two institutions[6], and that ‘free' elect­ions would only give the party an insignifica­nt number of votes (those of its members, at best) .

2) the American bloc controlled the ‘transi­tion to democracy' after Franco's death in a prudent, systematic and coordinated manner (in particular, with the close collaboration of German social-democracy and the French pre­sident Giscard); the protagonists had no difficulty in exercising this control: it was simply a matter of bringing Spanish politi­cal structures into line with those already existing in the advanced Western countries -- whose governments were even able to gain credit with their own ‘public opinions', traditionally hostile to Francoism; by con­trast, it is hard to see how the USSR could control such a process in its own bloc: even if the eventual ‘democratic' replacements firmly committed themselves to ‘respect the traditional alliances', their arrival and con­tinued presence in power in one East European country would give the green light to similar processes in the others, where the vast major­ity of the population aspires to this kind of change; the USSR would then be faced with a chain reaction that would destabilize the whole bloc, its own regime included: not only would this regime (the ‘toughest' in the bloc) be unable to serve as an ‘example' -- it would be seriously compromised by the ‘example' of the ‘democratization' of one of its vassals.

If the Eastern bloc is thus absolutely unable to tolerate any variety of ‘Spanish model' of ‘democratization', no more is it capable of tolerating the kind of intermediate version established in Poland in September 1980. Sol­idarnosc, despite being from the start an unconditional defender of the national capital, an indubitable enemy of the proletariat, whose main function and preoccupation was the sabotage of the workers' struggles, and although it never for a moment challenged either the power of the Party or Poland's place within the Russian bloc, thus embodied a program that was totally incompatible with the stalinist regime. Essentially, it was to mislead the workers that Solidarnosc put forward demands such as the ‘self-managed Republic', where the state power would be controlled by society ‘at the factory, communal and provincial level', where there would be ‘democratically elected diet', ‘independent courts' and where ‘culture, education, and the media would be at the service of society' (Solidarnosc's program). But these demands, upheld over a long period by an organisation with 9 million members and recognized as its representative by 90% of the population, constituted a danger for a regime as fragile as Poland, and for a bloc as fragile as Eastern Europe.

In the advanced Western countries, the dominant sectors of the bourgeoisie can tolerate the existence of stalinist parties, whose prog­ram threatens them with elimination -- though they do everything they can to weaken the stal­inists for the benefit of social-democracy. Since these parties will never win a parli­amentary majority, they are allowed free access to the parliamentary game, and even offered tit-bits of state power: this is a cheap way of refurbishing the tarnished image of ‘democ­racy'. But this is a luxury for the rich, for a strong bourgeoisie capable thanks to its economic power, the age of its institutions, and the weight of its mystifications, to mas­ter the workings of this ‘democracy' (however formal they may be) and the mechanisms of its ‘alternations'. It is a luxury that the bour­geoisie in power in the Eastern bloc cannot afford. They are incapable of restricting, in a lasting way, the political forces that they do not control directly within a well-defined role, as the Western bourgeoisie is able to do with the CPs . The mere official presence, even in opposition, of mass political forces that challenge the absolute power of the party-state calls into question the regime's very found­ation, and is a permanent factor of instabil­ity for it.

So Solidarnosc's fate was sealed right from the start. The bourgeoisie of the Eastern bloc was obliged to legalize the ‘independent' trade union, and give it free rein as long as this was absolutely necessary to confront the workers' struggle; once the job was done, the union's outlawing was inevitable.

In the East, even more than in the West, all talk of democracy is no more than hollow phrases, lies whose job is to lead the pro­letariat into a dead-end and defeat.


[1] ‘Le Courrier des Pays de l'Est', no. 27

[2] Officially, there exist in certain Eastern bloc countries, parties other than the ‘communist' one. So that, in Poland, we have alongside the ‘United Polish Workers' Party, the ‘Democratic Party' and the ‘United Peasant Party', all three being grouped in the ‘Front of National Unity' which officially governs the country. In East Germany there are no less than five separate parties. As in the Federal Republic we find a Liberal, a Christian Democratic and even a National-Democratic Party. It is obvious that these are no more than appendages for the ruling Stalinist party.

[3] This is particularly clear in the case of the workers' parties of the Second International. Before 1914, these parties (despite their increasingly reformist and opportunist tendencies) represented working class interests in parliament, local government and other elected bodies. This allowed them, under certain conditions, to put pressure on the state. From the start of the First World War these parties were absorbed by the capitalist state to become its agents within the working class with the job of using their origins and language to help enroll the proletariat in the imperialist war and to sabotage - or directly suppress - its struggles. The same process overtook the communist parties which, from being in the vanguard of the working class during the post-World War I revolutionary wave, degenerated with its defeat still more rapidly than the socialist parties before them: as decadent capitalism advances so increase the state's power to absorb proletarian organizations that claim to ‘use' bourgeois institutions. The betrayal of the trotskyist current during World War II is another example.

Though to a lesser extent the same reversal of functions has affected the classical bourgeois parties. From being the representative of different sections of the capitalist class within the state, they have increasingly tended to be the state's representative towards their respective clienteles. However, the fact that these clienteles belong to the economically dominant class forces these parties - under certain conditions, and unlike the so-called ‘workers' parties' - to defend in a real, though limited way some of the specific interests they supposedly represent.   

[4] On fascism and anti-fascism, see the International Review nos 3 and 10, as well as Revolution Internationale (nouvelle serie) nos 14 and 21.

[5] See International Review no 8 (‘The Communist Left in Russia') and nos 12 and 13 (‘The Beginning of the Proletarian Revolution in Russia).

[6] In the Eastern bloc, all functions of any importance in society figure in the ‘Nomenklatura' - ie the list of positions whose incumbents are chosen by the leading circles of the party and which are associated with material privileges relative to their place in the hierarchy. These functions range from chief of police to hospital director, from chiefs-of-staff to secretaries of the party's ‘rank-and-file' organizations in the factories, from factory managers to regional presidents of the volunteer firemen's association, from ambassadors to presidents of district committees for physical culture. Thus, the director of a state farm is chosen, not by the Ministry of Agriculture but by the party district committee; generals and colonels are nominated, not by the Ministry of Defense or the Chiefs of Staff but by the Politburo or the Party Secretariat.