The recent events in countries under Stalinist regimes, the confrontations between Party bosses and repression in China, the nationalist explosions and workers' struggles in the USSR, the constitution of a government led by Solidarnosc in Poland, are events of great historical importance. They reveal Stalinism's historic crisis, its entry into a period of acute convulsions. In this sense, they demand that we reaffirm and update our analysis of these regimes' nature and, of the perspectives for their evolution.
1) The convulsions which today are shaking the countries under Stalinist rule cannot be understood outside the general analysis, which is valid for every country in the world, of the capitalist mode of production's decadence, and the inexorable aggravation of its crisis. However, any serious analysis of the present situation in these countries must necessarily take account of their regimes' specificities. The ICC has already examined the specific characteristics of the Eastern bloc countries on several occasions, in particular at the time of the workers' struggles in Poland during the summer of 1980, and of the formation of the "independent" trade union Solidarnosc.
In December 1980, we set out the general framework for this analysis in the following terms:
"In common with all countries in the Eastern bloc, the situation in Poland is characterised by:
a) the extreme gravity of the crisis which today has plunged millions of workers into a state of poverty verging on famine;
b) the extreme rigidity of the social structure, which makes it practically impossible for oppositional forces to emerge within the bourgeoisie, forces capable of defusing social discontent: in Russia and its satellites every protest movement threatens to act as a focus for massive discontent simmering within the proletariat. This discontent is building up within a population which has been subjected to decades of the most violent counter-revolution. The intensity of this counter-revolution corresponds to the scale of the formidable class movement which it had to crush: the Russian Revolution of 1917.
c) The central importance of state terror as practically the only means to maintain order' (International Review no. 24).
In October 81, two months after the declaration of the state of war, and when the government campaign against Solidarnosc was hotting up, we came back to the question again:
"...the confrontations between Solidarity and the Polish CP aren't just cinema, just as the opposition between left and right in the western countries isn't just cinema. In the West, however, the 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 (cf the relation between fascism and democracy in the inter-war years).
By forcing the bourgeoisie to adopt a division of labour to which it is structurally in-adapted, 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).
Finally, after the declaration of the state of war and the outlawing of Solidarnosc, the ICC was led, in June 1983 (International Review no. 34), to develop this analytical framework. The framework needs to be made more complete of course, but it is only from this starting point that we can understand what is happening today in the Eastern bloc.
2) "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 the continuous strengthening of the state's power makes it possible to maintain a minimum of social cohesion, and a growing militarisation of society. While the tendency towards state capitalism is thus a universal historical fact, it does not affect all countries in the same way" (International Review no. 34, p4).
3) In the advanced countries, where there exists an old industrial and financial bourgeoisie, this tendency generally occurs through a progressive meshing of the "private" and state sectors. In this kind of system the "classical" bourgeoisie has not been dispossessed of its capital, and has retained its essential privileges. Moreover, the state's grip appears not so much through the nationalisation of the means of production, as through the action of a series of budgetary, financial, and monetary tools which allow it at any moment to determine major economic decisions, without calling the mechanisms of the market into question. This tendency towards state capitalism: "... 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" (ibid).
4) "There exists a close link between the bourgeoisie's forms of economic domination and its forms of political domination" (ibid):
- a developed national capital, held "privately" by different sectors of the bourgeoisie, finds parliamentary "democracy" its most appropriate political apparatus;
- "to the almost complete statification of the means of production, corresponds the totalitarian power of the single 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, ie 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 (the most obvious case is that of the old workers' parties which today are the state's organs for controlling the working class). 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 concretised during periods of acute convulsions in bourgeois society: "Government of National Unity" during imperialist wars, unity of the whole bourgeoisie during periods of revolution (...).
5) "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 upon the German occupation. The only historical example of a developed country where this phenomenon has unfolded completely is that of Nazi Germany (for reasons that the Communist Left has long since analysed) (...). 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)" (ibid). In particular, these countries' economic condition neither required nor allowed the adoption of "radical" measures of state control of capital which only the so-called "totalitarian" parties and structures is capable of establishing.
6) "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" (ibid).
Thus, for example, in the one-time colonies which gained their "independence" during the 20th century (especially since World War II), the constitution of a national capital has usually been carried out by and around the state, and often, in the absence of an indigenous bourgeoisie, under the leadership of an intelligentsia trained in European universities. In some cases, there has even been a juxtaposition and cooperation between this new state bourgeoisie and the remnants of the old pre-capitalist exploiting classes.
"...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, are added historical and geo-political ones: the circumstances in which the USSR and its empire were founded.
7) "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 (...) 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 (...). 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 pretense" (ibid ).
8) The same brutality and extreme centralisation with which the Russian regime exercised its power over society are also to be found in the way in which the USSR has established and maintained its power over its bloc as a whole. The USSR founded its empire solely on the force of arms, both during WWII (seizure of the Baltic states and central Europe) and after it (as with China and North Vietnam, for example), or as a result of military coups d'etat (Egypt in 1952, Ethiopia in 1974, Afghanistan in 1978, for example). Similarly, the use or threat of armed force (eg Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Afghanistan in 1979) is virtually its only means of maintaining its bloc's cohesion.
9) This mode of imperialist domination, just like the form of its national capital and of its political regime, are fundamentally the result of the USSR's economic weakness (its economy is more backward than those of most of its vassals).
"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 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" (ibid). By contrast, for a national capital to belong to the Eastern bloc is generally a catastrophic economic handicap (in particular because the USSR directly pillages these economies). "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 in 1948 or China at the end of the 60's, the attempts in Hungary '56 or in Czechoslovakia '68)" (ibid). The permanent centrifugal forces within the Russian bloc therefore explain the brutality of the USSR's imperialist domination. It also explains the form of the political regimes governing these countries.
10) "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 Saudi feudal monarchy, and from Franco's Spain to a social-democratic one" (ibid). By contrast, "... the fact that the USSR (...) 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)" (ibid). Moreover, the USSR can expect at least a minimum of fidelity only from Stalinist regimes (at best!), since as a general rule these parties' accession to and continued hold on power depend essentially on the direct support of the "Red Army". "As a result (...) while the American bloc can quite well "manage" the "democratisation" of a fascist or military regime whenever necessary (Japan, Germany, Italy following WWII; Portugal, Greece, Spain during the 70's), the USSR can tolerate no "democratisation" within its bloc" (ibid). A change of political regime in a "satellite" country carries with it a direct threat that this country will pass into the enemy bloc.
11) The reinforcement of state capitalism is permanent and universal under decadent capitalism. However, as we have seen, this tendency does not necessarily take the form of a statification of the economy, the state's direct appropriation of the productive apparatus. This option may, in certain historical circumstances, be the only one possible for a national capital, or the most appropriate for its defense and development. This is essentially valid for backward economies, but under certain conditions (during periods of reconstruction, for example), it can also be valid for developed economies such as those of Great Britain and France immediately after World War II. However, this particular form of state capitalism has serious disadvantages for the national economy.
In the most backward countries, the confusion between the political and economic apparatus allows and encourages the development of a wholly parasitic bureaucracy, whose sole concern is to fill its own pockets, systematically to pillage the national economy in order to build up the most colossal fortunes: the cases of Battista, Marcos, Duvalier, and Mobutu are well known and far from unique. Pillage, corruption and extortion are endemic in the underdeveloped countries, at every level of the state and the economy. This situation is obviously a still greater handicap for these economies, and helps to push them still further into the mire.
In the advanced countries, the presence of a strong state sector also tends to become a handicap for the national economy as the world crisis deepens. In this sector, enterprises' management methods, organisational and labour structures, often hinder their adaptation to the required increase in productivity. Even when they are not corrupt, the strata of state functionaries, "civil servants" generally enjoying complete job security and the guarantee that their enterprise (the state itself) cannot go bankrupt and so out of business, are not necessarily the best able to adapt to the merciless laws of the market. Consequently, the wave of "privatisation" currently sweeping over most of the advanced Western economies is not simply a means of limiting class conflicts by replacing a unique boss (the state) with a multitude of bosses, it is also a means of strengthening the competitivity of the productive apparatus.
12) In countries under Stalinist regimes, the system of the "Nomenklatura", where virtually all economic responsibility is tied to party status, the obstacles to improving the productive apparatus' competitivity develop on a far vaster scale. Whereas the "mixed" economies of the developed Western countries oblige state enterprises, and even state administrations, to have at least a minimum degree of concern for productivity and profitability, the form of state capitalism prevalent under Stalinist regimes has the characteristic of stripping the ruling class of any sense of responsibility. Bad management is no longer sanctioned by the market, while administrative sanctions are rare, since the whole administrative apparatus from top to bottom is equally irresponsible. Fundamentally, the condition for maintaining one's privileges is servility towards the hierarchy of the apparatus, or towards one of its cliques. The main preoccupation of the vast majority of those holding "responsible" positions is to put them to profit by filling their own, their families', and their associates' pockets, without the slightest concern for the state of the enterprise or the national economy. This kind of "management" does not of course exclude the ferocious exploitation of labour power. But this ferocity is not generally concerned with increasing the productivity of labour power. It appears essentially in the workers' wretched living conditions and the brutality with which their economic demands are met.
In the final analysis, we can characterise this kind of regime as the reign of flatterers, of incompetent and spiteful chieflings, of cynical prevaricators, of unscrupulous manoeuvrers and police agents. These characteristics are general throughout capitalist society, but when they wholly replace technical competence, the rational exploitation of labour power and the search for competitivity in the market, and then they seriously compromise a national economy's performance.
In such conditions, these countries' economies, most of which are already backward, are particularly ill-equipped to confront the capitalist crisis and the sharpening competition it provokes on the world market.
13) Faced with the total collapse of their economies, the only way out for these countries, not to any real competitivity, but at least to keeping their heads above water, is to introduce mechanisms which make it possible to impose a real responsibility on their leaders. These mechanisms presuppose a "liberalisation" of the economy, the creation of a real internal market, a greater "autonomy" for enterprises and the development of a strong "private" sector. This is in fact the programme of "Perestroika", as of the Mazowiecki government in Poland and of Deng Xiaoping in China. However, while this kind of programme has become more and more vital, its application runs up against virtually insurmountable obstacles.
To begin with, this programme demands the application of "real prices" to the market; this means that staple products which are currently subsidised must undergo massive price increases: the price rises of 500% that we saw in Poland during August 89 give some idea of what the population, and especially the working class, can expect. The past (and even present) experience of Poland is proof that this kind of policy can provoke violent social explosions that threaten its application.
Secondly, this programme requires the closure of innumerable "non-profitable" enterprises, or at least swingeing reductions in manpower. There will be a colossal development of unemployment (which today is a marginal phenomenon); this is another threat to social stability, since full employment was one of the workers' few remaining guarantees, and a means of controlling a working class outraged by its own living conditions. Massive unemployment, even more than in the developed countries, is liable to become a veritable social bomb.
Thirdly, "autonomy" for enterprises comes up against bitter resistance from the whole economic bureaucracy, whose official reason for existence is to plan, organise, and control the activity of the productive apparatus. Its notorious ineffectiveness in this mission could, however, be transformed into a formidable effectiveness in sabotaging "reform".
14) Finally, the appearance of a stratum of Western-style "managers", truly capable of valorising invested capital, alongside the state bourgeoisie (integrated into the apparatus of political power), is liable to prove an unacceptable rival for the latter. It's essentially parasitic nature will be mercilessly laid bare, and in the long term this will threaten not only its power, but the whole of its economic privileges. For the party as a whole, whose reason for existing lies in the application and leadership of "real socialism" (according to the Polish constitution, the party is "society's leading force in the construction of socialism"), its entire programme, even its identity, are called into question.
The obvious failure of Gorbachev's "Perestroika" (like all the previous reforms of the same kind, in fact) throws a particularly clear light on these difficulties. In fact, if these reforms are really carried out, this can only lead to an open conflict between the state and "liberal" sectors of the bourgeoisie (even if the latter is also recruited essentially from within the state apparatus). The brutal resolution of this conflict that we have recently witnessed in China gives some idea of the forms that it can take under other Stalinist regimes.
15) Just as there is a close link between the form of the economic apparatus and the structure of the political apparatus, the reform of one necessarily affects the other. The need for a "liberalisation" of the economy is expressed by the emergence within the party, or outside it, of political forces which play the part of spokesmen for this necessity. This phenomenon creates strong tendencies towards a split within the party (as we have recently seen in Hungary), and towards the creation of "independent" formations demanding more or less explicitly the reestablishment of classical forms of capitalism, as is the case with Solidarnosc (2).
This tendency towards the appearance of several political formations with different economic programmes brings with it pressure for the legal recognition of "pluralism", the "right of association", "free" elections, the "freedom of the press": in short, the classical liberties of bourgeois democracy. Moreover, a certain freedom of criticism, the "appeal to public opinion" can be used as levers to dislodge "conservative" bureaucrats who refuse to go. This is why, as a general rule, those who are "reformers" on the economic level are also "reformers" on the political level. This is why "Perestroika" is accompanied by "Glasnost". Moreover, "democratisation", including the appearance of "oppositional" political forces, can in certain circumstances, as in Poland in 1980 and 1988, or in the USSR today, is used as a diversion and a means of controlling the explosion of discontent within the population, and especially within the working class. This last element, obviously, is yet another factor of pressure in favour of "political reforms".
16) However, just as "economic reform" has taken on a virtually impossible job, so "political reform" has very little chance of success. The introduction of a multi-party system, with "free" elections, which is a logical consequence of the process of "democratisation", is a veritable menace for the party in power. As we have seen recently in Poland, and to a certain extent also in the USSR last year, such elections can only highlight the party's total discredit, and the population's hatred for it. Logically, the only thing that the party can expect from such elections is the loss of its own power. Unlike Western "democratic" parties, this is something that the CP's cannot tolerate, since:
- if they were to lose power in elections, they could never, unlike other parties, get it back in the same way;
- loss of political power would mean the expropriation of the ruling class, since its political apparatus is the ruling class.
Whereas in countries with a "liberal" or "mixed" economy, which still have a classical bourgeois class which directly owns the means of production, a change in the ruling party (unless this means the arrival in power of a Stalinist party) has little impact on this bourgeoisie's privileges and place in society, in the Eastern bloc such an event would mean, for the vast majority of bureaucrats whether big or small, loss of privileges, unemployment, and even persecution by the victors. The German bourgeoisie could adapt to the Kaiser, the social-democratic republic, the conservative republic, Nazi totalitarianism, and the "democratic" republic, without its essential privileges being called into question. By contrast, a change of regime in the USSR would mean the disappearance of the bourgeoisie in its present form, at the same time as the party. And while a political party can commit suicide, announce its own dissolution, a ruling privileged class cannot.
17) This is why the resistance to political reform that has appeared within the apparatus of the Stalinist parties in the Eastern bloc cannot simply be put down to the most incompetent bureaucrats' fears of losing their jobs and their privileges. It is the party as a social entity, as a ruling class, which is expressed in this resistance.
Moreover, what we wrote 9 years ago remains wholly valid today: "any movement of contestation threatens to crystallise the immense discontent existing within the proletariat and the population, subjected for decades to the most violent counter-revolution". Although one of the aims of "democratic reform" is to provide a safety-valve for the immense anger that exists within the population, there is the danger that this anger will emerge in the form of uncontrollable explosions. When any sign of discontent is no longer immediately threatened with bloody repression and mass imprisonments, it is likely to be expressed openly and violently. When there is too much pressure in the cooker, the steam that is supposed to blow off through the safety valve is liable to blow the lid off instead.
To a certain extent, last summer's strikes in the USSR illustrate this phenomenon. In any context other than that of "Perestroika", the explosion of workers' combativity would not have been able to spread so far or to last so long. The same is true for the present explosion of nationalist movements which highlight the danger constituted by the policy of "democratisation" for the very territorial integrity of the world's second power.
18) In fact, since virtually the only cohesive factor in the Russian bloc is that of armed force, any policy which tends to push this into the background threatens to break up the bloc. Already, the Eastern bloc is in a state of growing dislocation. For example, the invective traded between East Germany and Hungary, between "reformist" and "conservative" governments, is not just a sham. It reveals real splits which are building up between different national bourgeoisies. In this zone, the centrifugal tendencies are so strong that they go out of control as soon as they have the opportunity. And today, this is being fed by fears from within the parties led by the "conservatives" that the movement which started in the USSR, and grew in Poland and Hungary, should contaminate and destabilise them.
We find a similar phenomenon in the peripheral republics of the USSR. These regions are more or less colonies of Tsarist or even Stalinist Russia (eg the Baltic countries annexed under the 1939 Germano-Soviet pact). However, unlike the other great powers Russia has never been able to decolonise, since this would have meant losing all control over these regions, some of which are vital economically. The nationalist movements which today are profiting from a loosening of central control by the Russian party are developing more than half a century late relative to the movements which hit the British and French empires; their dynamic is towards separation from Russia.
In the end, if the central power in Moscow does not react, then we will see the explosion, not just of the Russian bloc, but of its dominant power. The Russian bourgeoisie, which today rules the world's second power, would find itself at the head of a second-rate power, a good deal weaker than Germany for example.
19) "Perestroika" has thus opened a veritable Pandora's Box of increasingly uncontrollable situations, such as what has happened in Poland with the installation of a Solidarnosc-led government. Gorbachev's "centrist" policy (as Yeltsin describes it) is in reality treading a tightrope between two tendencies whose confrontation is inevitable: one that wants to take "liberalisation" to its logical conclusion because half-measures can resolve nothing either economically or politically, and one that opposes this movement for fear that it will cause the downfall of the bourgeoisie in its present form, and even the collapse of Russia's imperialist power.
Since today the ruling bourgeoisie still controls the police and army (including in Poland of course), this confrontation can only turn to violence, and even to a bloodbath such as we saw recently in China. These confrontations will be all the more brutal given the population's hatred for the Stalinist mafia, that has built up over more than half a century in the USSR, and for 40 years in its satellites, of terror, massacres, tortures, famine, and a phenomenal cynical arrogance. If the Stalinist bureaucracy were to lose power in the country it controls, it would be subjected to a veritable pogrom.
20) But however the situation in the Eastern bloc evolves, the events that are shaking it today mean the historic crisis, the definitive collapse of Stalinism, this monstrous symbol of the most terrible counter-revolution the proletariat has ever known. The greatest lie in history is being stripped bare today.
In these countries, an unprecedented period of instability, convulsions, and chaos has begun, whose implications go far beyond their frontiers. In particular, the weakening, which will continue, of the Russian bloc, opens the gates to a destabilisation of the whole system of international relations and imperialist constellations which emerged from World War II with the Yalta Agreements. However, this does not at all put in question the course towards class confrontations. In reality, the present collapse of the Eastern bloc is another sign of the general decomposition of capitalist society, whose origins lie precisely in the bourgeoisie's inability to give its own answer - imperialist war - to the open crisis of the world economy. In this sense, more than ever the key to the historical perspective is in the hands of the proletariat.
21) The present events in the Eastern bloc confirm once again that the heaviest responsibility lies on the proletariat's battalions in the central countries, especially in Western Europe. There is the danger, in the economic and political convulsions, the confrontations between sectors of the bourgeoisie that await the Stalinist regimes, that the workers in these countries could let themselves be drawn in and massacred behind the contesting capitalist forces (as was the case in Spain 1936), or even that their struggles could be drawn onto this terrain. Despite their extent and their combativity, this summer's struggles in the USSR have not abolished the enormous political backwardness that weighs on the proletariat in this country, and in the rest of the Eastern bloc. In this part of the world, due to capital's economic backwardness, but above all to the depth and brutality of the counter-revolution, the workers are still terribly vulnerable to the mystifications and traps of democracy, unions, and nationalism. The nationalist explosions of recent months in the USSR, but also the illusions that the struggles in this country revealed along with the low level of political consciousness of the Polish workers despite two decades of important struggles, are a new illustration of the ICC's analysis on this question (rejection of the "weak link" theory). In this sense, the denunciation in struggle of all the democratic and trade union mystifications by the workers in the central countries, especially given the importance of the illusions in the West held by workers in the East, will be a fundamental element in the latter's' ability to avoid the bourgeoisie's traps, and to avoid being turned away from their class terrain.
22) The events presently shaking the so-called socialist countries', the de facto disappearance of the Russian bloc, the patent and definitive bankruptcy of Stalinism on the economic, political and ideological level, constitute along with the international resurgence of the proletariat at the end of the sixties, the most important historic facts since the Second World War. An event on such a scale cannot fail to have its repercussions, and indeed is already doing so, on the consciousness of the working class, all the more so because it involves an ideology and political system that was presented for more than half a century by all sectors of the bourgeoisie as 'socialist' or working class'.
The disappearance of Stalinism is the disappearance of the symbol and spearhead of the most terrible counter-revolution in history.
But this does not mean that the development of the consciousness of the world proletariat will be facilitated by it. On the contrary. Even in its death throes, Stalinism is rendering a last service to the domination of capital; in decomposing, its cadaver continues to pollute the atmosphere that the proletariat breathes. For the dominant sectors of the bourgeoisie, the final collapse of Stalinist ideology, the `democratic', 'liberal' and nationalist movements which are sweeping the eastern countries, provide a golden opportunity to unleash and intensify their campaigns of mystification.
The identification which is systematically established between Stalinism and communism, the lie repeated a thousand times, and today being wielded more than ever, according to which the proletarian revolution can only end in disaster, will for a whole period gain an added impact within the ranks of the working class. We thus have to expect a momentary retreat in the consciousness of the proletariat; the signs of this can already be seen in the unions' return to strength. While the incessant and increasingly brutal attacks which capitalism can't help but mount on the proletariat will oblige the workers to enter the struggle, in an initial period, this won't result in a greater capacity in the class to develop its consciousness. In particular, reformist ideology will weigh very heavily on the struggle in the period ahead, greatly facilitating the action of the unions.
Given the historic importance of the events that are determining it, the present retreat of the proletariat - although it doesn't call into question the historic course, the general perspective of class confrontations - is going to be much deeper than the one which accompanied the defeat of 1981 in Poland. Having said this, we cannot foresee in advance its breadth or its length. In particular, the rhythm of the collapse of western capitalism - which at present we can see accelerating, with the perspective of a new and open recession - will constitute a decisive factor in establishing the moment when the proletariat will be able to resume its march towards revolutionary consciousness.
By sweeping away the illusions about the revival' of the world economy, by exposing the lie which presents liberal' capitalism as a solution to the historic bankruptcy of the whole capitalist mode of production - and not only of its Stalinist incarnation - the intensification of the capitalist crisis will eventually push the proletariat to turn again towards the perspective of a new society, to more and more inscribe this perspective onto its struggles. As the ICC wrote after the 1981 defeat in Poland, the capitalist crisis remains the best ally of the working class.