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The fall of the Berlin Wall led to a media orgy on a scale not seen before in this century. For 3 days there was an almost uninterrupted flow of images, showing nearly 3 million East Germans crossing the wall and invading the West of the city of Berlin. In this first phase there was no need for propaganda. The images spoke for themselves; the bourgeisie’s message was directly attached to them and hammered home implicitly: "This historic day marks the total and definitive victory of democracy over totalitarianism", "People of the world, rejoice in this glorious day when capitalism has demonstrated its absolute superiority over the socialist regimes".
In the weeks and months which followed the most euphoric declarations and promises bombarded us from the ‘great and the good’: the end of the cold was going to usher in a "new world order" where all the countries of the world "North and South" would be able to "prosper and live in harmony" (as US president , George Bush, said). Gorbachev himself added another layer by declaring that a "new era, free from threat, from terror, stronger in the search for justice" was dawning. According to these eulogists for the capitalist system, relations between states would "from now on be founded on respect and co-operation", etc.
But, above all, the bourgeoisie attacked the working class directly with a sustained and intensive campaign of brainwashing, the effects of which are still being felt today. In spreading the greatest lie in history, according to which the collapse of the Stalinist regimes was the collapse of communism, the ruling class launched itself into a gigantic attempt to weaken the working class and to annihilate its class consciousness. In this way it sought to destroy in embryo any will to radically and definitively call its rule into question, as well as any idea that there can be an alternative to its barbaric system. Its aim was to eradicate the revolutionary perspective once and for all.
The causes for the collapse of the stalinist regimes
The collapse of the stalinist regimes was the most important event since the end of the Second World War and the historic resurgence of proletarian combat at the end of the 1960s. It was the first time in history that a country, the head of an imperialist bloc, collapsed without resistance, without open world war or a revolutionary development. This fall was the conclusion of a whole historic process. The capitalist state in Russia was reconstructed on the ruins of the 1917 proletarian revolution which had eliminated the Tsarist bourgeoisie. Neither the latter, nor any part of the ‘classic’ bourgeoisie, was able to take control of the counter-revolution in Russia which was produced by the defeat of the world revolution.
It was the bureaucratic party-state resulting from the internal degeneration of the revolution in the USSR which carried it out. The Russian bourgeoisie was recomposed from the stalinist counter-revolution and monopolised all the means of production through the state which became an all-encompassing monster. Straight away the USSR, arriving too late on the capitalist world scene in the period of over-production on a planetary scale, was hit by obvious economic backwardness. Its seizure of the ‘popular democracies’ at the end of the Second World War, which elevated it to the rank of leader of one of the two imperialist blocs, accentuated the tendency which had allowed it to survive since its origin: "the ever-greater concentration of the economy in the hands of the state at the service of the war economy." (International Review 34, p.2).
So, because the eastern bloc couldn’t rival the western bloc, its only resource faced with the economic and military pressure from the west was to mobilise its whole productive apparatus for military production. The considerable deepening of the crisis throughout the 1980s bled it dry. Lacking the power to compete with the opposing bloc, and given the impossibility of a world war because of the global resistance of the world workial resistance of the world working class which would not allow itself to be mobilised to defend the state as it had been in the 1930s, the eastern bloc imploded. But this is not the only factor to take account of in the disappearance of the eastern bloc. In effect, as we have already written:
"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. (...) 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 (...) While the tendency towards state capitalism is thus a universal, historical fact, it does not affect all countries in the same way." (ibid, p.4).
In fact, in the advanced countries this tendency is manifested by an interweaving of the ‘private’ and state sectors, allowing the bourgeoisie to avoid being dispossessed of its capital and privileges and to keep competition and the sanction of the market functioning.
"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’ competivity 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.(...)
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." (‘Theses on the economic and political crisis in the USSR and the Eastern countries’, International Review 60, p.8, 1990).
History will have to overturn the great lie of this century, which has been hammered home since the fall of the Berlin Wall, that it was communism which collapsed in the USSR and Eastern Europe when it was the most brutal and instructive manifestation of a capitalist economy in crisis which has been tonomy in crisis which has been torn to pieces. The stalinist way of managing the economy was founded on the ferocious exploitation of the labour power of workers.
"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." (ibid).
The stupidity of the bourgeoisie’s promises
The least that can be said is that, since the beginning of the ‘era of peace and prosperity for humanity’ opened with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Eastern bloc and the USSR, this era has been revealed as being more the ‘era of wars and economic crises’. We have unceasingly denounced ‘the peace which prepares new wars’.
In effect, faced with the bourgeoisie’s brazen lies,"the end of the division of the world into two imperialist constellations has put an end to neither antagonistic relations between capitalist nations nor military confrontations which are the consequence of them. The truth is quite the contrary. With the disappearance ary. With the disappearance of the blocs, a period of military confrontations and militarism has been opened." (Revolution Internationale, no.198, Feb 1991).
Throughout the decade we have seen an orgy of local conflicts and wars. Militarism has never been so prominent, nor the manufacture and sale of armaments, nor the threat of nuclear proliferation so dangerous.
Barely eight months after the fall of the Wall, the Gulf ‘crisis’ broke and six months later the very democratic ‘international community’ unleashed a bloodbath which was more efficient in extermination than any conflict during the ‘cold war’. According to official estimates there were between 300,000 and 500,000 Iraqi dead. The first ‘breach’ of the promised new era of peace, the Gulf War was the start of a spiral of bloody military conflicts and chaos which have not spared any corner or continent of the planet, and in which conflicts of imperialist interests have been unleashed everywhere, in the permanent war of each against all.
The disappearance of the eastern bloc was also the end of the western bloc. The USA rapidly became aware of this in the months which followed the disappearance of the easte disappearance of the eastern bloc, since their former allies started to show clearer and clearer impulses to ‘independence’. They attempted to disengage from American tutelage in order to play their own cards in the world imperialist arena, free from the iron grip of the blocs. The outbreak of the Gulf War was fundamentally motivated by the will of the USA to constrain its old allies to support it anew, by agreement or by force, at the expense of Iraq.
The Yugoslav conflict which broke out in 1992 is another confirmation of the position we have advanced since 1989 on the development of chaos and barbarity all over the globe. While the Iraqi corpses were still warm, Yugoslavia, in the process of dislocation provoked by the shock wave of the disappearance of the eastern bloc, became a free for all. The great powers which, according to their own strategic imperialist interests have continually fanned the flames, dismembered the territory, fomented and covered up the unending atrocities in this region at the heart of Europe. With the last war in Kosovo, this region has become one of the most militarised in the world, like those such as the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
The great powers have been quick to rely on their respective pitbulls, militias or local pitbulls, militias or local armed bands in their pay, in order to settle their scores. So much for the ‘peace dividend’! It is the logic of capitalism which makes the great powers continually encourage the renewal of ethnic antagonisms in the service of their interests. This war, like those which are racking the ex-USSR, Chechnya, Dagestan, Africa and even East Timor, show once more that capitalism is war. There is no question of the ‘harmony’ between nations predicted by the cheerleaders for the capitalist system in 1989. Every man for himself is the only law, to conserve or absorb zones of influence and hunting grounds which has been one of the characteristics of imperialism since the existence of the two imperialist blocs. So barbarism, relations of military force, incessant destabilisation which all powers unleash against others, reigns supreme spreading suffering, death and massacres without hesitation.
The bankruptcy of capitalism
And what of the ‘dividend’ of the end of the cold war on the economic level promised by the bourgeoisie? Where is the promised economic prosperity, the ‘end of sacrifices’, when the largest enterprises themselves, even whole sectors are laying workers off en masse? According tf en masse? According to the ILO in 1996 the number of unemployed and under-employed had already reached the billion mark. Where is the ‘share of growth’, when poverty is continually growing in the working class, when living conditions are becoming ever more insupportable, when working conditions are increasingly precarious, allowing capital to exploit the workers to the limit according to its needs? What has developed massively in the 1990s has been under-employment and unemployment and the policy of reducing various social benefits as well as the lowering of nominal wages etc. This reality doesn’t only make a nonsense of the promises of ‘prosperity for all’, it is revealing about something more profound: the bankruptcy of the capitalist system as a whole.
As soon as the so-called ‘communist bloc’ collapsed the bourgeoisie enthused about the new Eldorado which the markets of Eastern Europe appeared to be. Where are these fantastic markets that were to spring up like mushrooms in the territories ‘freed’ from the old Russian bloc? The complete decay of the industrial infrastructure and the transport anarchy immediately shows how absurd such a perspective was. Between 1989 and 1997 Russia lost 70% of its industrial production!
Not only has the ‘liberation’ of the Eastern European economies not brought the promised ‘second wind’ to the world economy, but, on the contrary, history has shown that the collapse of the stalinist states was nothing but the collapse of one face of the world capitalist system, and that it is nothing but a symptom of the incurable illness of this world system. It announces that further violent economic and social upheavals are inescapable.
The recession of 1991-3 showed that the flight into credit is less efficient at relaunching production each time. Japan is a case in point. All the sectors which had previously escaped the crisis were affected in turn - information technology, telecommunications, armaments, banking. The impossibility of massive capital investment in production brought unbridled speculation, and this permanent cheating of the laws of the system can only increase its fragility. Capitalism is in crisis and facing the permanent threat of chain reactions, provoking economic and social devastation, like those in South East Asia. In 1997 the Asian ‘tigers’ and ‘dragons’, which had been presented as ‘pioneering’ economies, showed that the new ‘youth’ of capitalism was bankrupt with the crash. The shockwave rith the crash. The shockwave reached Brazil, Venezuela and, once again, Russia.
At the same time the legendary ‘economic health’ of the old models - Germany, Japan, Switzerland - caved in. Faced with the crisis the ruling class is making a permanent effort to push the consequences of the contradictions of its system to the peripheral zones of the globe. It is there that, at the moment, they break out most spectacularly, taking the form of collapses of entire parts of the economy. This cannot, however, prevent the crisis from coming back regularly to hit at the heart of the system with greater violence and more damage each time.
The only response is the class struggle and the perspective of communism
In presenting the collapse of stalinism as the collapse of communism, the ruling class is obviously trying first of all to hide the fact that this was only one of the manifestations of the bankruptcy of capitalism itself. But above all, it has been striving to the utmost to cry at the top of its voice that it is a question of the bankruptcy of any perspective for the revolutionary overturning of its system, as with the ‘end of the class struggle’.
In appearance, the immediate reality, above all at the beginning of the 1990s, seemed to prove it right. As we predicted at the time, the events of 1989 would be paid for by a great reflux of workers struggle, above all at the level of consciousness within the working class. While stalinism was one of the worst enemies of the working class, this didn’t mean that its disappearance would automatically create the conditions for an advance in the proletariat’s struggles.
On the contrary, because it collapsed, not under the pressure of workers’ struggles, and without the proletariat being able to develop the concrete denunciation of the lie of stalinist barbarity on its own terrain, it died without being condemned, without having undergone the judgement of the class struggle. Its death has, on the contrary, served to maintain and make even more powerful the lie that it was an incarnation of the proletariat’s historic struggle! Because of that, these events, added to the bourgeoisie’s media barrage, have effectively precipitated a profound disorientation in the working class internationally, a retreat in consciousness, a loss of confidence in its own strength and in the fact that its combats represent the only response to capitalist misery. This retreat is still affery. This retreat is still affecting the working class today.
But communism is not an abstract ideal. Because the contradictions of the capitalist system have condemned it historically and reveal a little more each day its inability to contain the productive forces it has engendered, communism has become a material necessity. This affirmation of marxism has never been so topical. And this very capitalist society can no longer escape it whatever the immediate balance of forces between the classes: it produces within itself its own gravedigger, the proletariat. Capitalism cannot exist without the proletariat and the proletariat’s struggle against capitalist exploitation contains within it, whether consciously or not, the overcoming of this system through its revolutionary overthrow.
Each time the working class suffers such a retreat, the ruling class, taking its desires for reality, shouts in triumph that it has resolved the contradictions of society and eliminated the class struggle. Until the proletariat, once again, reminds it with renewed class militancy.
The retreat suffered by the working class in 1989 is nothing compared to other defeats experienced in the past. After the terrible defeat of the revolutionary weat of the revolutionary wave of 1917-23, counter-revolution weighed on society for fifty years and the ruling class made the same triumphant cries in the 1950s and 1960s as today. Until the international awakening of the proletariat in 1968 disillusioned it and there were new massive waves of workers’ struggles on every continent in the 1970s and 1980s.
Today the working class has not suffered a defeat comparable to that in the 1920s. Its strength is intact and the proletariat of the central countries especially, is not ready to allow itself to be mobilised in a new world war, as it was in the 1930s, in the name of ideological justifications such as anti-fascism or national defence.
Not only is the general historic course still open to class confrontations, but the signs of a slow but certain recovery of class struggles have also accumulated in recent years. On the level of consciousness, the lies about peace and prosperity in capitalism haven’t long to run. The violence of the economic crisis and the attacks that the bourgeoisie cannot avoid continually dealing out to the working class, force the latter to take up the path of struggle again. And the bourgeoisie also knows this (even if it is careful what it says!). It is no accident that it is deploying accident that it is deploying a whole arsenal in order to try and pre-empt the inevitable proliferation of new experiences of significant struggles (see ‘The left in government’ in International Review 98), at the same time it is leading incessant campaigns to try and convince workers that they are powerless and must rely on the capitalist state to defend them (see also page 2 on Paddington rail crash).
The spectre of communism has come back to haunt the bourgeoisie today. The economic bankruptcy and the ever increasing barbarity of this system reveals this necessity in ways that can less and less be hidden. But above all, the violence of the blows against the working class, the necessity for it to fight in response, creates the conditions for it to rediscover its consciousness and its confidence in itself. These are forces at work which will make the proletarian revolution and communism not only a necessity, but also a possibility.