The need to restore the socialist project
Restoring the validity of the socialist project is not merely academic. The events of 1989-90 have been seen as the death of communism and socialism and the final triumph of Western capitalism.
The standing of Marxism and the whole socialist project has never been lower. It is not only the former supporters of the Eastern European regimes that have disappeared (in the case of the Communist Party of Australia), or faded (in the case of the Socialist Party of Australia); the left as a whole has suffered a malaise. Neither the IS nor the SWP (both from anti-bureaucratic traditions) prospered, although the IS had constantly argued that the Soviet regime had little to do with socialism.
This inability to gain from the fall of these regimes reflected in part their small size, which never approached that of the CPA, or even that of the smaller SPA. Both the CPA and the SPA equated socialism with the USSR. The IS and the SWP were also victim to the views of the popular press, which confirmed that what the readers saw in the USSR was socialism.
Secondly, despite the presence of many working-class people in the challenge to the bureaucracies in 1989-90, the working class marched behind other banners and there was no mass independent working-class response to events, nor has this yet evolved in the post-communist free-market states. This put back further any revival of the socialist alternative in the popular mind.
Are the IS or the SWP parties that we can expect to play an important role in the revival of the working class political activity and the winning of the workers to the socialist cause?
Concretely, this means that the working class must develop confidence in such a Marxist party. It must have faith that the party will tell them the truth; that the party can correctly identify the real social forces involved; can distinguish between rhetoric and the real interests being pursued; can perceive the long-term interests of the class and the way to achieve them. Most importantly, the working class needs a party that will not sacrifice its political independence to an alliance with its national capitalist class.
Lastly, in the era of imperialism and the global economy, where the owners of capital span continents, more than ever such a party must have an internationalist perspective: that is one which views the struggle between the classes as an international one.
Three basic Marxist criteria
We can state three fundamental guides to a Marxist party if it is to carry out the tasks of winning leadership of the working-class and the more immediate task of re-establishing the validity of socialism as a real alternative to capitalism after the fall of the bureaucratic states. For a Marxist party such criteria are not arbitrary, because they are central to Marxism itself.
Remembering Lenin’s dictum: “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”1, what should distinguish a Marxist party in its efforts to understand and change the world is the materialist conception of history2, which starts with the nature of the productive forces and the relationships that they determine between the classes and the struggle between classes, which was neatly summarised by Marx in his Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1857).
Secondly, from Marx’s dictum that the liberation of the working class must be achieved by the working class itself and from The Communist Manifesto of 1848 to The Civil War in France of 1871, written after the fall of the Paris Commune, that the needs of the class struggle require that the working class must have an independent voice3 and that no other class or social layer can substitute for it.
Thirdly, and flowing directly from this, is the Marxist conception of internationalism. It was the international contacts made during the course of the Polish insurrection of 1863 that led directly to the creation of the International Workers Association (The First International) in 1864, which proclaimed the need for “international proletarian solidarity”4 a feature repeatedly emphasised in Marx’s Civil War in France.
When we turn to the Second International, established in 1889, it is the question of internationalism that was the source of contention, when in 1914 the vast majority of the parties voted for war credits in the interests of their own capitalist class. This was contrary to the antiwar resolutions passed only months before. The Bolshevik Party of Lenin was a notable exception. After the abandonment of internationalism in 1914, the parties of the Second International, the “labour parties”, confirmed their nationalist perspective and their reconciliation with their own ruling classes. To Lenin, and the Third International of 1919, the concept of internationalism was central.5 The revolutionary wave that brought the Russian Revolution of 1917 quickly faded, as did the tentative grip of the Russian working class upon the newly created Soviet state. It was replaced in the 1920s by an emerging Soviet bureaucracy based on the CPSU and the Soviet state. Its leader was Stalin. The term Stalinism will be used to designate views that express the interests of this social layer, the Soviet bureaucracy.
The conservative nature of this new social layer was nowhere better demonstrated than in the theory of socialism in one country.6 This was a theory that cut off the Soviet workers from the world’s working classes and from its dependence on revolution in the rest of the world.7
It was an inward-looking policy, which facilitated the growth of the bureaucracy and put workers’ loyalty firstly to a national state that was building socialism in one country. Like all forms of nationalism “Soviet” nationalism bound oppressed and oppressor behind the same banner. It subordinated the interests of the working classes locally and internationally to the interest of a national bureaucracy.8 The critical point is that before Stalin, Marxists opposed popular fronts, however they were named, which subordinated the interests of the working class to those of another class or layer.9
So the perspective of the Marxists, namely that of the international working class, is inseparable from the need of the class to maintain its class independence. The abandonment of one is the abandonment of the other. The politics of socialism in one country were imposed on the world’s Communist parties.10
Their politics were now directly related to the needs of national Soviet foreign policy as determined by a privileged bureaucratic layer.
Relating to the former USSR
In examining the politics of the IS and the SWP, it is their relationship to the former USSR that will be primarily examined. Both parties took as part of their orientation, a rejection of the USSR as a model of socialism, and their inspiration from the ideas of Leon Trotsky. In the case of the SWP it came from the international organisation of workers’ parties called the Fourth International, established by Trotsky and others in 1938. Both parties agreed that Stalin represented a defeat of the worker’s revolution, and that the resultant bureaucracy was neither revolutionary nor internationalist, but a counter-revolutionary layer anxious for a status quo relationship with imperialism (of which “peaceful coexistence” would be a prime example), which was put ahead of the international class struggle.
There the similarities ended. The IS believed that capitalism had been restored in the USSR and that it took the form of “state capitalism”. A similar view had first been put by James Burnham and Max Schachtman in the debate with Leon Trotsky in the US SWP during 1939-40.
Trotsky, on the other hand, argued that the Soviet bureaucracy was a caste but not a new social class. He described the Soviet Union as a “degenerated workers’ state”.11 This difference of designation was important. For the forebears of the IS, a social, political, and economic revolution was needed to overthrow state capitalism in the USSR. In contrast, Trotsky envisaged only a political revolution, which would remove the bureaucracy and restore working class control of the state without requiring a fundamental change to the property relations established by the October revolution. Trotsky further insisted on the unconditional defence of the Soviet Union in the event of imperialist attack, whereas Schachtman and Burnham argued for working-class neutrality. This was a stance the British IS repeated during the Korean War on the basis that both sides were capitalist. Finally, and most importantly for us, these differences between the IS and the Australian SWP were critical in their analysis of the events in the USSR, in the years 1985-91.
It will be argued that the IS position was not a Marxist response based on the historical materialist method of Marxism, but a moral and impressionist position12
that was inadequate as a tool of analysis and which locked them into a position that left them ill-prepared for understanding the post-communist societies of the 1990s.
Notes to The need to restore the socialist project
1. V.I. Lenin What is to be Done? Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1973, p 28. See also p 29, Lenin’s elaboration: “we only wish to state that the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.”
2. This is Marx’s description of his theory. The terms “dialectical materialism” and “historical materialism” which are more explanatory, were coined later. See Marx by David McLellan, Fontana, London 1975, p 38
4. Franz Mehring, Karl Marx, Allen and Unwin, London 1936, p 327
5. V.I. Lenin, What is to be Done? op cit, p 29, and Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos, op cit, p 124: “the emancipation of the workers is not a local, not a national, but an international question”. See also The Communist Movement by Fernando Claudin, Penguin, 1970, p 46, and Founding the Communist International: Proceedings and Documents of the First Congress, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1987
6. The first statement of this new social layer was in the second edition of J. Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, 1924. This was a revision of the first edition of the same year, which had repeated the Bolshevik orthodoxy that the victory of socialism in the USSR depended upon revolution in the advanced countries. Fernando Claudin, op cit, p 71-72. For dozens of examples of Bolshevik orthodoxy see Robert Black, Stalinism in Britain, New Park, London, 1970. See also Leninism under Lenin by Marcel Liebman, Jonathan Cape, London, 1975, pp 360-61.
7. The historical context of the Soviet Union from 1923 on was one of isolation as the post-war revolutionary wave had passed. The tentative Soviet republics of Hungary and Austria had been defeated, and 1923 confirmed the failure of revolution in Germany. The need to defend the remaining citadel in the Soviet Union could hardly be denied. The defeat of the British 1926 General Strike and the Chinese revolutions of the late 1920s confirmed the pessimism about the imminent extension of the revolution.
9. The popular front was a tactic pursued by Communist parties from 1934, after the victory of fascism in Germany. It was different to the united front, which was an alliance of working-class parties around limited working class demands. The popular front was an attempt to unite with sections of the bourgeoisie who opposed fascism on a purely liberal platform. Working-class demands were subordinated to achieving this alliance. The Comintern had seen the independence of the Communist parties in relation to the bourgeoisie and “their complete freedom of action” as “the most important historical achievement of the proletariat”. See Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos op cit, p 396.
11. Reproduced as In Defence of Marxism, Leon Trotsky, New Park, London, 1966. Andrew Milner argues that the “degenerated workers’ state” formulation is based on the transitory, unstable nature of the Soviet system, which he claimed proved to be perpetual. The Road to St Kilda Pier, Westgate, NSW, Stained Wattle Press, 1984, p 86.
12. The term “impressionism” refers to a political method that makes judgements on the surface appearance of events rather than examining the social and economic foundations and history of the thing studied. A non-IS example, the conclusion that Stalin and Hitler were essentially the same because both their countries adopted totalitarian practices, ignores completely the different class relationships and recent history of both countries.
Origins of the International Socialists
The International Socialists, established around 1972, have held the position of state capitalism on the Soviet Union since at least 1974.1 Although the “bureaucratic collectivist” designation was still used as late as 1976,2 the theory adopted by the IS was that of Tony Cliff of the British SWP in his book State Capitalism in Russia.
The state capitalist position of the Australian IS on the former Soviet states, and the connection with its mentor, the British SWP, has remained unchanged since that time. It is what immediately identifies the IS as a separate organisation on the far left, and what historically has separated the state capitalist parties from the Fourth International3 parties throughout the world, which continued to argue that the Soviet Union remained a degenerated workers state.4
The debate between these two formulations has continued until this day.5 The International Socialists, as they became known from 1977, have never wavered from or changed their state capitalist viewpoint and they believe the events in Eastern Europe have confirmed their analysis completely. They have left the theoretical defence of the theory to their British counterparts, but it has remained the fundamental thread in their analysis, which is applied equally to the USSR, China, the post-war East European states and Cuba, and by July 1989 Burma, Algeria and Iraq.6
The state capitalist theory
Prior to the crisis in the bureaucratic regimes, the validity of the state capitalist theory was not tested by events. It had undeniable propaganda advantages for the IS. It allowed it to argue for socialism without embracing Soviet-style regimes as socialist, without the explanatory problems the Fourth International had in designating regimes as “degenerated workers’ states” when they were conspicuous by their absence of workers’ power, but which the FI still qualified as “workers” states, however degenerate. An additional propaganda advantage allowed the IS to portray both the Western capitalist class, and the bureaucracies, as united against “socialism from below” which, taking its cue from Marx’s observation that the liberation of the working class must be achieved by the workers themselves, looks solely to the self-activity of the working-class. This “socialism from below” had to fit into a state capitalist framework where Eastern Europe was concerned.
In assessing the IS, we must therefore deal with the policies of state capitalism. Is state capitalism a Marxist response to the developments in Eastern Europe? Does it correctly identify the principal contradictions in the bureaucratic state? But more to the point, what are the political results of this analysis and what does it tell us about the political methodology of the IS?
Quite apart from the obvious absence of working-class control of industry, growing inequalities, and the exclusion of the wording class from political power, the IS had solid grounds in Marxism for denying the label socialist to the Soviet-style states.7
Rather than repeat the detailed debate between the British SWP theoreticians and Ernest Mandel of the Fourth International, we can pose queries about the state capitalist position based on Marx’s brief summary of historical materialism in his Preface to the Critique of Political Economy.8
The IS has argued consistently that the bureaucracy based on the Soviet party and the state came to power with the victory of Stalin after Lenin’s death in 1924, and against which Lenin himself had begun to fight in collaboration with Trotsky.9 This bureaucracy began as a broker between the rival classes in Russia and the outside imperialist powers and then gradually began to rule in its own interests with its own theory, Stalin’s theory of socialism in one country. The bureaucracy became, by the late 1920s, a new state capitalist ruling class living off the surplus value produced by the Soviet working class.10
According to the Preface, it is necessary if a new class is to establish new productive relationships that dominate society, for there to be, in Marx’s words, “an epoch of social revolution”. Where and when in Russia did such a revolution occur that put a “new” class in power? We are left to suppose that it happened gradually. It was a strange capitalist class indeed that, in its first five-year plan, attacked private property in land, and collectivised agriculture. What did occur was the separation of the Soviet state and the Communist Party from the working class that had made the revolution in 1917.11 We can trace the bureaucratisation of the Soviet regime at the state level, but note that this did not require the destruction of the collective nationalisations, most of which took place as early as 1918 and 1919.12 It was therefore a political, but not a social or economic counter-revolution.
More surprisingly the IS seems never to have been able to tell us exactly when this counter-revolution took place. We are left with references to the late 1920s, although mostly it is equated with the triumph of the Stalinist faction of the Communist Party without specifying any particular time. This lack of precision, in what is critical to their case historically, leaves open the suggestion that the new state capitalist class achieved power, not in a revolutionary way, but gradually over a period of years. This opens up the possibility of the peaceful, or gradual, transition from one class society to another, which entirely contradicts Marxist ideas and would no doubt be rejected by the IS.13
Instead of the market allocating capital on the basis of profitability, the bureaucratic plan imposes a command economy, with its quotas and norms, in which the working class has no say. This is not socialism, but it is also not capitalism; nor were the lack of profits, and the often grossly over-manned factories and enterprises, temporary or recent, which were endemic to bureaucratic mismanagement over decades.17
One would also expect that if the Soviet bureaucracy were a capitalist class, then, in line with every other powerful capitalist class, it would act on the international arena to extract profit from overseas investments, exploiting Third World labour, etc. But, on the contrary, the Soviet economic links with its “colonies” consisted of Soviet subsidies for flagging Eastern European economies. The political consequence of the withdrawal of Soviet aid to Cuba (and Vietnam and Mongolia), shows clearly in which direction the funds were flowing, as Cuba’s economy has been in acute crisis ever since.18
The state monopoly of foreign trade, plus the small part foreign trade has played in the Soviet economy in the past, has meant that market forces have been denied an obvious point of entry into the Russian economy.
With all these factors arguing against the state capitalist position, the IS has only one consistent explanation for why Russia is a capitalist country, which has appeared in many issues of the IS paper, formerly The Battler, now The Socialist. After using a very arguable interpretation of Frederick Engels, concerning Bismarck, Robert Bollard in 1992 argued: “What is important is who controls production and to what ends. In Russia a vast bureaucratic layer has controlled those means since it decisively entrenched itself in power during Stalin’s first Five Year Plan. It used that control to build up the Soviet economy at the expense of the mass of the population—the workers and peasants—and gained wealth and privilege to itself. It competed on the world stage, attempting to match the US military—a competition which indirectly brought the pressure of the world market into the autarchic Russian economy. This surely is capitalism.”19
This represents a new definition of class. It confuses the political regime of a society with economically dominating class in that society. Capitalism as an economic system has had a variety of political regimes, from parliamentary democracy to fascism, in which the capitalist class held little or no political power in the state, yet the country remained capitalist. Could it be argued that such a state, in which the working class seized state power and destroyed the capitalist class, might cede state power to a bureaucracy in conditions of backwardness and isolation, but still retain the collectivist nature of the productive forces?
Ultimately the test must be for Marxists: does the economy “generalise commodity production” or does it, as did the Soviet Union, restrain it? This will identify the class nature of the society and the context in which the nature of the state will be decided. It is clear that the working-class was not in control of state power from Stalin’s time on, but did this make the USSR a capitalist country?
Apart from superficial similarities with the United States, the core IS argument lies in the pressure of military competition. The steps to Bollard’s conclusion were more clearly set out in the IS paper. It argues that the surplus produced by Russian workers was needed to produce armaments to match the Americans. “This drive to accumulate capital in order to compete with its rivals is nothing less than the logic of capitalism” argues the IS. The whole of Russia is likened to a giant business, “Russia Inc”.20
Apart from an apparent confusion between competition and exchange value, the Soviet military need to compete militarily with the US, which took about 13 per cent of GNP in 198821, clearly has not been reflected in any competition between Soviet and US washing machines and cars, nor has it ensured that the Soviet Union address the gross overstaffing and inefficiency of its factories.22
The IS use of supra-historical categories, which have no necessary connection with the relations of production prevailing in a particular country, is a method that must be queried.
The logic appears to be:
One suspects that the demands of propaganda work are the driving force behind this piece of argument.23
There is no analytical dynamic in the theory that prevents IS propaganda extending the analogies endlessly. The Soviet state control of the economy, in order to focus resources on armaments, is compared without reservation to Japan and Germany in both world wars.24
Robert Bollard reveals the inherent weakness in his Socialist Review article when he concludes: “revolutionaries must reject any idea that the Stalinist regimes were in any way preferable to western capitalism” (my emphasis). This is the substitution of a moral judgment for an objective class analysis. One can argue whether such regimes are preferable or not; the point is, are they the same? A judgment based on moral preferences is a poor analytical tool.
When the IS confronts opponents of its views, it is strongest when the opponent takes their stand on the defence of the Soviet regimes as socialist, and in the case of the SWP/DSP, which saw the Gorbachev reforms as a socialist renewal of Soviet society. The IS criterion of workers’ power, “socialism from below”, allows it to embarrass the SWP/DSP, which was effectively identifying the socialist cause with Gorbachev’s attempted reforms.
Gorbachev’s increasingly authoritarian stance and the failure of perestroika made it easy for the IS to argue that this was not the road back to workers’ power in the USSR.When confronting views that see the USSR as neither socialist nor capitalist, but rather a highly unstable and contradictory formation that was transitional in its character, capable of allowing the restoration of capitalism, but also vulnerable to a political revolution by the working class against the bureaucracy, the IS is incapable of breaking out of its moralistic dichotomy. It is surprising that the IS so rarely addresses the degenerated workers state scenario, given that it is the principal rival view that does not defend the USSR as being socialist. It is not until September 198925 that The Socialist addresses the problem.
The IS argues that Trotsky was “forced” to argue that the working class had to make the revolution against “their” state to restore workers’ control. This, according to Mick Armstrong, was based on Trotsky’s misconception that workers’ power was determined by the nationalisation of the economy. In any event, no evidence is offered. The IS returns to the subject26 in a polemic against the SWP/DSP and its support for the Gorbachev leadership as the agent of democratic socialist renewal in the USSR.However, the IS lumps the SWP/DSP position together with the degenerated workers’ state theory of Trotsky and the Fourth International, which explicitly rejected the role of Gorbachev as having anything to do with the restoration of working-class power in the USSR.27
The sympathy of the IS for the working class is never in doubt, but they remove the dialectical and scientific heart from Marxism, which sees change as proceeding from contradiction, and replace it with a moral stance that views the world in fixed, stable categories. To the IS, either it is full socialism from below, the self-emancipation of the working class, or it fails to meet the criteria for socialism anywhere. Furthermore, it is morally bad and therefore there is no difference between the capitalist societies of the West and the allegedly state capitalist societies of the East.
State capitalism and the fall of the bureaucracy
The fall of the Communist party regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989-90 was a test of the various theories of the nature of these regimes, and the political method behind these theories. Despite the demonstrations and the strikes, particularly the Soviet miners’28 strikes of June and July 1989, and the large number of workers on the street (except in Poland and Hungary) during 1989,29 the workers presented no coherent program of working-class opposition to the advocates of the market, and certainly nothing like a “revolution from below” or the political working-class revolution envisaged by Leon Trotsky.
The IS, for its part, lauded each expression of working class revolt and the theory and method of state capitalism was said to have been completely confirmed.30
To the IS the crisis in the East was just part of the special crisis of the capitalist system. Like the West, the East was affected by the falling rate of profit, but again, arguing by analogy, we are told that this was expressed by falling growth rates.31 State capitalism and the free market are seen as two sides of the same coin.32
The IS saw no essential difference between the pre-1989 regimes in Eastern Europe and the free-market regimes that followed them. It was only a “step sideways”, according to lan Rintoul.33
The IS may acknowledge that neither option is a realisation of working-class interests, but it eliminates any understanding that the working class, although it has no interest in defending the Communist parties and their rule, does have a stake in defending certain protections, or even gains, by the working class under that system. Job security, subsidised food and housing and a stable currency are a few of the obvious ones.
The IS response also underestimated the significance of glasnost, which it saw only as a propaganda adjunct to perestroika, but glasnost had more important effects. It allowed political criticism of the political monopoly of the CPSU and its privileges. It saw the emergence of independent working-class activity (the miners’ strikes for example) and strengthened demands for independence by the oppressed nationalities. The rapid decay of bureaucratic rule proceeded to the point where the ruling “class” in Hungary could, in October 1989, vote to dissolve itself without waiting for an onslaught of popular revolt.34
This apparently unique behaviour by a supposed ruling class, in abdicating power, showed that unlike the capitalist class in the West, the bureaucracy rested only upon a brittle form of rule through the political monopoly of the Communist Party. Once this went, as it did in early 1990, the days of the bureaucracy were numbered. It had no other long-term options. Compare this with upheavals in the West, which can bring enormous change in the form of political rule without the economic and social dominance of capital being disturbed.35 This is the point: that the dominance of the bureaucracy flowed almost exclusively from its political control, and not from its economic and social dominance of society. Such reasoning was not considered by the IS.36
The inadequacy of the state capitalist position to give any understanding of the events of 1989-91 flows from its determination throughout its history to see no difference between capitalism and “state capitalism”. The events of 1989-90 and since, particularly in terms of the living standards of the working class, would appear to contradict this view.
Even as late as April 1989 the IS was stating that the crisis in Eastern Europe was just part of the special crisis of the capitalist system, and no different to the crises in China and Chile (sic),37 although it notes some differences, such as the mass of unprofitable enterprises that would not have survived in the West, but which, until the fall of Gorbachev, were a fact of Soviet life.38 It elsewhere acknowledged that profitability was not a factor in production in the USSR.39 The IS clearly sees such differences, with their obvious effect on the working class, as of little significance because to do so would be to recognise the increasingly obvious differences between state capitalism and capitalism. This does not imply, as the IS suggests, a preference for either alternative.
Ian Rintoul, in an article titled Is Capitalism Being Restored in the Soviet Union?40 shows the dilemma the IS is facing. According to Rintoul, the introduction of the market into the Soviet Union does not mean a restoration of capitalism because capitalism run by the state was introduced in the late 1920s. To Rintoul, what matters “is not the property forms but the relations of production—what portion the worker has in the process of production”.
Given that the IS is arguing that the position of the worker remains the same, its stance of opposing privatisation of the Eastern European economies is never explained. “But socialist opposition to privatisation is not based on opposing capitalist restoration,” he concludes.
“The command economy of the East and the market economy of the West are not fundamentally counterpoised economic systems, but rather different aspects of development of the same system. Both produce resistance from workers and therein lies the hope for the future.”
The theory makes it difficult to see on what basis the workers would oppose the sackings, the removal of subsidies on daily goods, or the closure of unprofitable enterprises, with resultant unemployment. The IS quotes a Harvard study that envisages 38 million workers unemployed as a result of the successful introduction of the market.41 “Different aspects of development of the same system … different sides of the same rotten coin” explained nothing. “Hope for the future” is a moral stance and is no substitute for a Marxist analysis that can supply a program to fight for the political leadership of the working class today in Eastern Europe.42
Despite the politics of the IS, the actual differences between the command economies of the East and free-market capitalism inevitably emerge.
David Lockwood, in China, Marx, Mao or the Market? in examining the new free-market economic zones of China, reveals conditions substantially worse than in the rest of China. Here, Lockwood notes, the money-based class system has produced conditions “not out of place in Victorian England based on the narrowest class interest”, seeing workers as “the object of market forces and not the subject of history”. In June 1990, Lockwood notes the emergence in China of a wealthy new class outside the party hierarchy, which is producing tensions with party control.43
The point was not lost on other IS members. Diane Fields, in a letter, chastises Lockwood for describing the emerging rich as if they were members of a separate class to those who dominate Chinese society. Despite noting that the emerging rich want the stability of law rather than the whim of the bureaucracy, Fields sees the new rich as a section of the same wealthy class that makes up the party hierarchy: that is, a capitalist class.44 But clearly, one wing of this class has political power and the other does not, so the criterion of class offered contradicts the IS insistence that the nature of the state capitalist class flows from its control of the state. Again, apart from the call to the Soviet working class to take matters into their own hands, and applauding their role in thwarting the August 1991 attempted coup in the USSR45, the IS was unable to make much sense of the differences between the wings of the bureaucracy.
The Socialist saw the coup as an attempt by a section of the bureaucracy to shift politics to the right and was carried out, in the “interests of the ruling class”.46 As David Lockwood pointed out in a letter,47 this does not help to distinguish between the coup forces and the anti-coup forces. Having labelled both the state bureaucrats and the free marketers as different forms of the same thing, their opposition to the coup, or the role of the working class strikes against the coup, is not clear. The IS says only that the workers opposed a “very sharp shift to the right” because it threatened the recent rights gained.48
David Lockwood, criticising the IS response to the coup attempt, points out that the programs of the State Emergency Committee on one side, and Yeltsin and Gorbachev on the other, were quite different: “and that it would be a serious mistake to dismiss the coup as simply an exercise in the ruling class changing its outward appearances. Just as in the East European revolutions of 1989-90 there is more to it than that. Something has changed in these societies. One wing of the ruling class has decisively defeated the other. The victors intend to proceed with a program of restructuring which will necessarily destroy the state as we have come to understand it.”49
Ian Rintoul defends50 the IS line by arguing that the decisions within the bureaucracy reflect the economic strength of the various republics, and not the programmatic differences listed by Lockwood as involving preservation of the Soviet Union, whether the introduction of the market could be achieved within the Union or under the auspices of the party. Rintoul further suggests that little has changed in the USSR, because the USSR remains capitalist and the Soviet ruling class remains the ruling class.
This is an effective denial of the differences between the command economy and Western capitalism, which leaves the working class ill-prepared for the enormous sacrifices that the full-blown introduction of the market outside any state control will bring. These will inevitably bear heaviest on the working class in terms of jobs and living standards—a point one suspects is not lost on David Lockwood, who in a letter in the next issue,51 argues for a recognition of the differences between state capitalism and Western capitalism. Although he describes it as “useful to see state capitalism as a continuum stretching … from the local electricity board to all the way through to the Gosplan”, he diplomatically suggests a cut-off point is needed to distinguish the two systems.
Of course, as a member of the IS he has to work within the state capitalist theoretical framework. His proposed solution is that the most important cut-off point for “full-blown state capitalism” is the fact “that military competition takes precedence over everything else since the Soviet economy was too weak to compete in any other way”. There is no doubt that military expenditure represented an intolerable burden on the Soviet economy and hastened its crisis, but this also meant identifying the crises, not as the waste and inefficiency of the bureaucratic command system, but a purely external pressure imposed by imperialism.52
Having raised the inadequacies of the state capitalist approach, David Lockwood, committed as he is to state capitalist dogmas, is unable to find a way out.
One last aspect of the fall of communism, which illustrates the essential differences between western capitalism and the bureaucracies, was the Gulf War of 1991. The collapse of the regimes in the East gave an unparalleled freedom to the United States and contributed to the isolation of the Iraqi regime.
To the workers and peasants of Iraq and Cuba, the historical differences were by no means academic, and yet IS does not address the reasons that now allowed first Bush and then Clinton to impose, at will, a New World Order. Such a query is obscured by the IS insistence on the essential similarity between free-market capitalism and the bureaucratic states of the East.
Local practice and perspectives
- “Any current with a flawed understanding of the world and of socialist strategy will ultimately come to grief” (The Socialist, No. 227, July 1989, p.9)
It is hard to trace accurately from the IS press its involvement in various activities. Phil Ilton has given a detailed summary of IS activity in the period up to 1976. IS membership was said to be 70 at the end of 1977, rising to 100 in 1980; it is said to be 220 in 1993.53 Branches were established in Sydney and Brisbane, and temporarily elsewhere.
Attempts to build rank and file groups in the unions continued throughout the 1970s through a policy of industrialisation — sending students into factories. This policy collapsed by 1976, although the organisation was not without success according to Ilton54, particularly in the public sector.55
Even at this early stage, IS involvement in student politics was evident in their particiapation in the struggle against assessment and police intervention at Monash. Typical also, was the IS disruption of lectures by the racist theorists Eysenck and Jensen at the universities.56
By the early 1980s this rank-and-file work seemed to have substantially receded with the admission that the IS had no real influence in the working class.57 This, it was said, was related to the declining militancy of the working class, particularly once the Labor Party took power in 1983.58 From 1982 to 1984 the IS began to retreat from activity in the working-class movement, even from the multi-class politics of the People for Nuclear Disarmament. In 1984 the IS conference formally accepted the new position of “propagandism”, which it stated had been in place since 1982.
They argued their new position in The Socialist and in a pamphlet by full-timer Mick Armstrong, titled What is a Propaganda Group?59 This argued that IS influence in the outside world and the working class was limited, and therefore IS had to act primarily as a propaganda group in order to win people to socialist ideas in preparation for the next period of radicalisation; to seek out socialists and convince them to join the IS.60
Until “there is an extreme radicalisation amongst masses of workers” the IS argued, it will be impossible to take strides towards a mass revolutionary party in Australia. In the past, they said that agitational activity was designed to produce sympathisers and influence in the working class, as a prelude to recruiting workers, but now the downturn had put an end to such notions and the IS was more realistic.61
Yet the IS had always stood for “revolution from below”, which in the Australian context means rank-and-file activism, led by socialists or the Leninist party, in which the workers, by engaging in struggle, through their experiences gained an understanding of the nature of class society, their place in it and the need for a revolutionary struggle against it. Thus, for Marxists, it is not abstract alternatives or pure propaganda that will accelerate this process, but the actual praxis of the class engaged in struggle.
Given that the IS agreed that the only class objectively capable of challenging the capitalist system was the working class,62
the move to propagandism was a move away from this perspective. The downturn in the class struggle, mechanically equated with strike days by IS, does not alter the perspective of activity in the class that must dominate a Marxist party’s strategy. The frustration of a demoralised class and small numbers are understandable, but the turn to propaganda alone is the adoption of a quite different perspective. The method at work here has its links with the shibboleth of state capitalism, because the method is the same: ie impressionism.
Just as the IS proceeds from the surface similarities between capitalism and the Eastern European regimes to deduce they are the same, so the IS, when faced with a downturn in working-class industrial activity, impressionistically abandons the working class, as if such a downturn in workers’ militancy was, by its nature, fundamental. In place of the workers, there was a turn to students. The IS conceded that groups like students could never substitute for the self-activity of the working class.63 Students and youth, it was said, were more interested in the concepts of socialism than in specific industrial disputes and, perhaps most importantly for the IS, they were said to be more rapidly politicised than workers, and to present a greater opportunity for recruitment.64
There is no doubt that trade union militancy declined once the Prices and Incomes Accord between the Labor government and the ACTU began to take effect, and that the opportunities for activism declined. Although it was perhaps isolated, a Marxist party would have remained in the class organisations with the perspective of laying the groundwork for a rise in activity as circumstances changed; instead, the IS adapted to the downturn in militancy (under the banner of “propagandism”), by turning away from the working class to students. This meant arguing socialist ideas as a “counter against the prevailing pessimism”, according to Phil Griffith, who seems to share this pessimism.65
This is an understandable mood in reaction to the downturn, but not a materialist analysis that is built on the understanding that the working class has material interests that are hostile to capital and that in the longer term the increasing polarisation of wealth in Australia that developed in the 1980s could only make that hostility more likely. In short, the IS, because of their impressionism, had lost faith in the Australian working class.
Students and selling its paper became the main areas of IS activity. In 1990, when the IS reunited with Socialist Action to become the ISO, they reaffirmed this approach with an emphasis on building the organisation.66
This emphasis on building the organisation and increasing sales of the paper were the only measure of the success, or otherwise, of the propaganda group, and demonstrations became the high point of political activities. The latter included forays on the Melbourne Club and the Stock Exchange, demonstrations against the AIDEX67 military exhibition, the Bush68 visit, student protest against the tertiary tax, and the most recent Ausstudy demonstration in 1992, as a result of which five IS members faced charges. During the Bush visit to Australia, The Socialist
could enthuse: “This was a celebration of rebellion — a rejection of everything rotten about Keating and Bush’s world”.69
It is also a substitute for activity in the working class. On page 12 of the same issue, Mick Armstrong, in an article titled Why Mass Action is Central in Turning Anger into Victory, argues for the militancy of the anti-AIDEX demonstrations as a key part of a way forward for “militant mass action that can inspire workers in their own power to change the world”. This is a quite different order of things to the self-emancipation of the working class, or revolution from below. The demonstration takes place outside the working class.
For the IS the demonstration becomes a symbolic enactment, or recreation, of the class struggle in society itself. This is not to deny either the need for Marxists to be involved in such protests, or in the legitimacy of demonstrations, but the IS sees this related to the working-class struggle as “inspiration”. Inspiration from outside the working class must, of necessity, have much of a moral stance about it, a protest against symbols of Australian capitalism, like the sale of arms or the visit of a US president in a war mood.
In April 1992, the new politics of the IS were confirmed with an article on students as a catalyst to revolution.70
Just as the IS had impressionistically reacted to the downturn in working-class militancy by abandoning agitation for propaganda, so it did when, in the aftertmath of the election of the Kennett Liberal government in Victoria in October 1992, a rally of 150,000 people was held in Melbourne on November 10, 1992. The IS response to this upsurge was revealing. One article, The Return of Class by Sandra Bloodworth,71 hailed the working class as the only force in society capable of inspiring a fightback, and without irony mocks “most on the left” who, during the 1980s, had “turned their backs on the concerns of workers to take up an array of cross-class ideas such as feminism, green politics, lifestylism”; while Phil Griffiths, in the same issue, seemed totally surprised: “Who could have imagined the speed and scale of the turn-around in Melbourne”.
A party that had remained with its orientation in the working class would have not only imagined it, but been part of its development. That its influence would have been tiny cannot be doubted, but its members would have been well-placed to take advantage of any chance for influence and growth. As it is, IS is condemned to the role of cheer squad.
The history of IS demonstrates the importance of the materialist method of Marx and Engels. What appears on the surface a semantic difference on the Soviet Union, underlies a different method of political analysis, which Trotsky locates as petty bourgeois and which, like a scratch that turns to gangrene, infects every area of political activity.
Notes to Origins of the ISO
1. The IS began in Melbourne as the Marxist Workers Group in December 1971. For a detailed history up to 1978 see History of the Socialist Workers Action Group by Phil Ilton. IS Publications Melbourne, 1984, pp.1-6.
4. The point of the debate between Trotsky and James Burnham and Max Shachtman was Trotsky’s insistence on unconditional defence of the Soviet Union against imperialism despite there being a simultaneous need for the working class to politically overthrow the bureaucracy. Although Burnham and Shachtman were theoretically bureaucratic collectivists rather than state capitalists, the difference with Trotsky was the same.
5. See The SWP and Eastern Europe, by Phil Hearse, Socialist Outlook (UK), No 27, October 1990, p 26. For an IS reply see Labor College Review, No 17, Melbourne, Victorian Labor College, June 1992. See also State Capitalism versus Marxism by Dave Windsor, International, No 2, 1974, p 6.
7. According to Marx, socialism must include the abolition of commodity production and the gradual disappearance of money, the abolition of trade in consumer goods at least within the commune, control of freely associated producers over the product of their labour and over their conditions, and lastly the control by the people over the mode of their material relations (which implies the absence of a repressive state apparatus). In other words, socialism remains an unattained goal not least in the former Soviet Union. Marx Critique of the Gotha Program in The First International and After, London, Harmondsworth, 1974, pp 345-6. See also Power and Money: A Marxist Theory of the Bureaucracy, Ernest Mandel, Verso, London, 1992, especially chapter 1.
11. The Socialist No 235, April 1990, p 10. There can be no doubt about the representativity of the Bolsheviks in October 1917, or the scope of the mass movement before, during, and after the October Revolution. For eyewitness accounts see John Reed,Ten Days That Shook the World, Penguin; N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution, 1917, Vol II, Oxford, 1955, pp.528 and pp.579-585. Martor-Dan Geschichte der Russisi Socialdennnmokrate. Berlin, 1926, pp 300-301. Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, 1917-32, p 57 and p 60. Deitrich Geyer, The Bolshevik Insurrection in Petrograd in Revolutionary Russia, edited by R. Pipes, Harvard, 1968, p.164. Ernest Mandel, October 1917: Coup d’etat or Socialist Revolution? Notebooks (IIRE No 17-18 , 1992, pp 8-12. Mandel cites many sources.
13. Engels and Marx remained revolutionaries to the end, although David McLellan cites some quotations from the late Marx that suggest Marx did not rule out a peaceful transformation in the US and UK as a result of universal suffrage. See David McLellan, The Thought of Karl Marx, Fontana p 228. Some question whether or not Engels believed in his last years in the possibility of a peaceful transformation flow from deletions made to his preface to the 1895 edition of Marx’s Class Struggles in France by the Social Democratic Party of Germany, against which Engels protested. See for details Engels’ Letters to Kautsky by Leon Trotsky, New York, Merit, July 1969.
14. Yeltsin’s appeals today to the capitalist world for capital for the Soviet economy show the lack of free or fixed capital, which the economy needs to function in the world market. The IS appears to confuse the accumulation of capital with the accumulation of things in the USSR, in particular military equipment. See The Socialist No l76, June 8, 1985, p 8, and No 221, January 1989, p 12.
15. Not only is there a lack of capital but also a lack of capitalists in Eastern Europe. The dumping of many Eastern European bureaucrats in 1989-90, which abruptly ended their “capitalist status” without seizing their property, showed what was plain to see: that the real landlords and capitalists had been expropriated decades earlier. The absence of a stock exchange, private property and company law are problems that free-market investors have recently had to face.
16. Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, p 1, describes the capitalist mode of production as “an immense accumulation of commodities” and elsewhere defines capitalism as generalised commodity production. Yet the absence of commodities has been the most glaring failure of USSR-style bureaucratic societies. The periodic crises of overproduction of commodities that occur under capitalism are not found in bureaucratic societies. Tony Cliff himself considers that there is no commodity exchange in the USSR as far as the means of production is concerned, and goes further in saying that labour power is not a commodity in the USSR because only one buyer of labour power exists, namely the state. Further on, Cliff admits that investment is not determined by the capitalist law of the tendential decline of the rate of profit. Tony Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia, London, 1955, p 158, pp 172-3.
17. In fact an important consequence of the entry of the free market into these countries is the number of industries that would become open to the market, but which would produce little or no profit. In the case of the Soviet Union this could mean up to 30 million Soviet workers would be sacked and a third of the East German work force would be dismissed. According to Harvard figures quoted in The Socialist, No 256, September 1991, p 8, it was the exclusion of the market that enabled industry to be built in the first place and that prevented since then any modernisation processes that would eliminate jobs or cut workers’ living standards. Poland has shown already that this is the result of the entry of the free market into such economies, and the first casualties have been jobs and living standards for many workers.
22. Ken Tarbuck has also pointed out that any real workers’ state may need to produce comparable arms if it is faced with external attack. Ken Tarbuck, State Capitalism: The Clock Without a Spring, International, London, 1970. Would this need then mean that the law of value of capitalism would be introduced into the workers’ state which, by virtue of this, would become a state capitalist regime? This would mean that a workers’ state would not be possible while one capitalist state remained intact. Given that all states throughout history have applied part of their social surplus for military defence, or in the IS’s terms, competed with their rivals, what is there in military competition that is specifically capitalist? The cost of rearming can hasten the decline of a system, but it does not define that society.
23. John Minns, The Socialist, No 187, May 1986, p 9. Or when Diane Fields argues: “USSR is capitalist because workers sell their labour power to those who control the means of production. (The Socialist , No 255, August 1991, p 13. See also No 250, April 1991, p 8; No 233, January 1990, p 7; No 248, March 1991, p 5; No 247, December 15, 1991, p 5). Elsewhere Gorbachev’s Perestroika is said to be similar to Paul Keating’s restructuring (The Socialist, No 214, July 1988, p 8-9). The writer notes, however, that in Australia unprofitable businesses would be closed down, and that in Russia this does not happen. The various non-Russian national states in the USSR are equated with Western colonies despite the quite different economic relationship involved. (The Socialist, No 214, July 1988, pp 8-9). Again based on similar appearances, the strong accumulation undertaken by the Stalin regime in the 1930s is equated with the policies of the Meiji restoration in late 19th century Japan although the domestic and international political situation of each was quite different. On the Meiji restoration see Theda Skoepol, States and Social Revolutions, London, CV Press, 1979, pp 100-104.
29. Judy Blatt, The End of Communist Rule in Eastern Europe. Government and Opposition Vol 26, No 3, 1991 pp.368-390. Blatt details the limited role played by the workers in the fall of the bureaucracies.
35. One need only take the case of France, where capital has ruled under a presidential system, under emperors (the Bonapartes), a fascist government (during World War II) and a wide range of parliamentary regimes from limited property franchise and a wide range of parliamentary regimes (during the rule of Louis Phillippe) to universal franchise. The last century in Germany, Spain and Italy show a similar diversity in forms of capitalist rule.
36. When the CPSU lost its leading role in the Soviet Union in February 1990, the IS saw fit to limit its explanation of this historic retreat by a reference to a demonstration of 200,000 against the monopoly position of the CP. The Socialist, No 234, January 1990, p 61.
52. One might ask did not this burden in part contribute to the decline of the US in its competition with rival imperialist powers? Does it mean that state capitalism was part and parcel of the US system? And what of indisputably capitalist nations like Germany or Japan in the period of huge rearmament prior to the world wars? Did they become state capitalist societies? No longer is the internal class structure the criterion of the nature of the society but an arbitrary cut-off point. Armaments may be a factor in the decline of a nation’s power but they are no definition of a social system itself.
64. Rather than judging the success or otherwise of the party in terms of its influence on the class in the actual course of the class struggle, the IS, while recognising that the students were less significant than the workers in offering a challenge to the plans of the Labor govemment, saw the students’ action in the fee campaign “as more important to us.” (The Socialist, No 216, August-September, 1988, p 151) because it was easier to intervene in the fees campaign and “we stand to get more out of it”. See also The Socialist, No 223, January 1990, What is to be Done, by Phil Griffiths.
67. IS tactics at the AIDEX demonstration were debated with the SWP/DSP, which objected to the super-militancy of the IS, but the SWP proposals included the possible arrest of people like the IS. The Socialist, No 263, April 1992, p 12.
The evolution of the Democratic Socialist Party (earlier called the Socialist Workers League, and later the Socialist Workers Party), was curious. It began its life in 1972 in an anti-Stalinist tradition.1 It was the Australian section of the Fourth International from 1972 to 1985. Beginning in the 1980s, however, the SWP drifted politically from the internationalism of the Fourth International to support for the Gorbachev leadership in the USSR. This became a total identification with a wing of the Soviet bureaucracy, which was seen to be the agent of a democratic socialist renewal in the USSR. To understand this dramatic shift in politics, with its disastrous results, we must trace the development of the SWP’s views from its beginnings to the fall of Gorbachev.
In the first issue of Direct Action2 in 1970, the SWL view of socialism was given as “the full flowering of workers’ democracy and the elimination of special privileges for the few”, while the bureaucracies that dominated Eastern Europe “must be renewed before socialism can become a reality”. With such anti-Stalinist origins there was no lack of clarity: “Stalinism is not a question of narrowness and dogmatism but of subordination of the interests of the world revolution to the narrow materialist interests of the Soviet (or Chinese, etc) bureaucracy”,3 or again: “We are absolutely and irreconcilably opposed to Stalinism here and abroad”.4 As for any possibility of meaningful reform of the Eastern European bureaucracies, Dave Holmes of the SWL attacks Laurie Aarons of the CPA, asserting that:
- Laurie Aarons seem to look towards some Khrushchev-like reform of the bureaucracy but this won’t eradicate it, only modernise it and prolong its miserable existence. The bureaucracy has to be smashed before Soviet society can continue along the revolutionary road on to which it entered in 1917.5
And, to eliminate any possibility of doubt, Holmes returns two issues later to add: “the idea that the “the idea that the Soviet bureaucracy can be reformed is absolutely false and thoroughly reactionary”.6
This view was reinforced with numerous feature articles on the same lines by Leon Trotsky and leaders of the FI, particularly Ernest Mandel, the secretary of the FI and its leading theoretician.7
Alien Myers and Tom Arrowsmith, in their article Does Socialism equal Stalinism?8, laid out what they feel to be the essential difference between the Marxist and the Stalinist view.
Firstly, the internationalism of Marx, starting with the Communist Manifesto slogan, “Workers of the World unite”, was contrasted with the role of the Soviet bureaucracies in Germany 1928-33, Spain 1936, France 1936, the pact with Hitler, their role in the post-war revolutionary situations, in Egypt, Iran, Indonesia and elsewhere, all cases where the needs of Soviet diplomacy came first, having disastrous results for the workers’ movements.9
Secondly, Marxism was a struggle for the independence of the working class, whereas the Communist Parties “preach an alliance between the workers and a section of the capitalists deemed most friendly towards the Stalinist government”.10
Thirdly, it argued that socialism meant the widest possible democracy, whereas Stalinism was the antithesis of workers’ democracy.11
The shift in political allegiance in the early 1980s to the views of the Soviet bureaucracy inevitably turned these propositions of Marxism on their head. They became what Stalinism had become, a distortion of Marxism that attempts to use Marxism for the interests, not of the working class, but for the interests of a hardened bureaucratic layer that has separated itself from its working-class base.
Steps towards Stalinism
We should note that the drift from total opposition to the Soviet bureaucracy to identification with the dominant reformist wing of that bureaucracy, began not in 1985 when the Gorbachev regime launched perestroika and glasnost, but in the late 1970s.
No public explanation of the reasoning behind the 1977 rejection of the FI document,12 Socialist Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, was ever given by the SWP. This document laid out explicitly the FI position that under any socialist system the FI would stand for a free, multi-party system.13
An SWP congress initially approved this document, but that decision was overruled by the national committee, according to ex-SWP members. Whatever the motivation, it was to prove conducive to the support of the Gorbachev leadership and indeed all wings of the bureaucracy that opposed a multi-party system.
Clearly the single-party status of the CPSU was an essential prop for bureaucratic rule. Back in 1977 there is no evidence that this was the model that the SWP had in mind. It argued for the right to belong to a political tendency within the party and in all other bodies.
Nicaragua and Afghanistan
1979 was a critical year for the SWP, as the SWP acknowledged, because of the Nicaraguan revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December.14 To the SWP, the Nicaraguan revolution was a popular worker-peasant revolution whose leadership was not Stalinist or class collaborationist. Furthermore, the FI (small in size and with few resources), did not have the monopoly on making revolution. It had played no part in Nicaragua and no FI section existed there.15
The FI had shown solidarity with the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions while maintaining its criticism of cases of bureaucracy and the limited nature of workers’ democratic control.16 The SWP and the US SWP, were not critical at all, but according to SWP national secretary Jim Percy, the Cuban support for Nicaragua erased any doubts they may have had about the Cubans’ revolutionary credentials. The SWP support for the “new revolutions” and the “new revolutionaries”, was contrasted with their membership of the FI, which was seen as an obstacle to developing relations with other revolutionaries around the world.17
Not only did the SWP feel frustrated by the Fourth International’s alleged failure to embrace, rather than merely support, the Nicaraguans and the Cubans, they differed also on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.18 The US SWP was to reverse its position supporting this invasion in August 1980, but the view of the Australian SWP was still unchanged in 1990.19
The Soviet invasion was critical. In January 1979, the SWP had opposed the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia despite what was then known about the Pol Pot20 regime. They had done so on the basis of the right of Cambodia to self-determination, a position described in 1990 as “abstentionist”.21 A month later, the Chinese invasion of Vietnam was condemned, while noting22 the US backing for the invasion. By the end of the year the line had clearly changed.
The SWP had supported the regime that came to power in Afghanistan in 1978, but criticised it for its bureaucracy and its privileges, and for its failure to move against the local bourgeoisie to expropriate them and establish a workers’ state based on the workers and the peasants.23
It described the ruling party, the PDPA, as having “the usual Stalinist program for underdeveloped countries, an alliance with local capitalists”, but the SWP warned in the words of the Nicaraguan leader of the 1930s Nicaraguan revolutionary leader, Augusto Cesar Sandino: “only the workers and peasants will go all the way”.24 The SWP would later describe this “usual Stalinist program” as Lenin’s “two-stage theory”.25
The SWP was careful, on the one hand, to distinguish between support for the Afghan revolution and Soviet intervention, and any support for the Kremlin leaders, on the other. They recognised that any advance of the revolution would be against the wishes of Moscow which they described as having an overall strategy of “peaceful coexistence”.
It was clear to the SWP that the Soviets were operating in their own interests and that support for the Afghan revolution was a by-product, and not the purpose, of Soviet intervention.26
The SWP justified the Soviet invasion by arguing that regardless of the motivation of the Soviet Union the “objective character of the invasion was to protect the interests of the workers and peasants by blocking the US-sponsored counter-revolution.27
The invasion was said to be “not aimed against the workers, but against the exploiters and parasites”28 The Soviets were said to fear the downfall of the progressive Afghan government because a US-backed right-wing regime would probably allow US military bases on the Soviet border. Thus the concern was the security of the Soviet Union.29 The truth of these propositions is not the issue. It is that the SWP was viewing the issues at stake not from the long-term interests of the Afghan workers and peasants, but was giving priority to the needs of the Soviets in their quest for regional security against the perceived machinations of the US.30
By supporting the “objectively” progressive Soviet invasion, the SWP had taken the first steps towards a political loyalty to that same force which ensured that the Afghan revolution could progress no further. The needs of the Afghan workers were thus subsumed into a world view that sees the world’s class struggles as essentially between the two great superpowers, dubbed the camp of imperialism and in Soviet terms, the camp of socialism.31
Such a view hands the banner of working-class liberation, not to the working class, but to the Soviet leadership. It means the dismissal of any workers’ struggle that the Soviet bureaucracy decides is not in its interests, not least the struggle of the Eastern European working class against the bureaucracy.
The SWP, at this stage had not made this connection, but they were well on the way. John Percy, in January 1990, would answer the FI (Trotskyist) critique of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, and the working-class struggle against the bureaucracy that it involved, in the following terms.32
- The second major error central to the Trotskyist view that correcting the errors and mistakes made in the Soviet Union in the course of constructing socialism has equal weight in the worldwide struggle for socialism with the fight against imperialist capitalism.
This was more than five years after the SWP had left the Fourth International, but Afghanistan was more than a step on the way.
The SWP makes new friends of old enemies
The SWP defence of the Soviet invasion was the same as that of the Socialist Party of Australia, a pro-Moscow split-off from the CPA in 1971. The SWP had earlier described the SPA as “the most slavish pro-Moscow wing of the CPA” and said it and the CPA followed “the Stalinist revisions of Marxism”.33
The SWP and the SPA also agreed on opposition to the Accord between the ACTU and the incoming Labor government of 1983. Further, they took the same view that the Soviets stood for peace and should be defended against US President Ronald Reagan’s massive rearmament. The SWP no longer referred to itself as Trotskyist, a fact that was now acknowledged.34
The collaboration between the two parties continued through the 1980s at conferences, meetings, as political allies at the various fightback campaigns against government economic policies, and as electoral allies under the banner of a Socialist Alliance.35
As their association continued, the SWP would progressively shed any political impediments to a common view of the USSR. The SPA gave the Soviet leadership uncritical support. The SPA, unlike the SWP, retained influence in trade union leadership circles. They were, at least, of comparable size and the SPA would allow the SWP access to the world’s Communist Parties that the FI could not. The SWP was clearly keen to extend its size and influence and it showed all the signs of impatience at the perceived obstacles to its growth.
Principal among these constraints were the platform and program of the Fourth International, whose analysis of the bureaucracy precluded any possibility that this bureaucracy could be reformed. The Fl argued that it must be overthrown by the working class, which would democratise all institutions and entrench democratic control by the working class.36 Furthermore, the political independence of working-class parties was considered fundamental. While not excluding limited alliances on a tactical level, the thrust of the FI approach was against class collaboration, and in particular, working-class support for the parties of a different class.
During the 1980s, the SWP branched out in all directions. It took up the case of the HDP, a Croatian separatist group that was said to be moving to the left,37 a curious support for Jesse Jackson (the decidedly bourgeois US presidential candidate),38 and support for the Nuclear Disarmament Party, particularly around the 1984 federal election. In the late 1980s the SWP made determined efforts to win over green activists to the SWP. That the SWP should seek to extend its influence into other areas of activity was unremarkable, but the readiness of the SWP to play down fundamental stances like their opposition to the Wages and Income Accords of the 1980s between the ACTU and the Labor government showed signs of political opportunism. Opposition to the Accord had been part of the common ground between the SPA and the SWP.39
All the issues noted above came and went, but what is consistent from the early to mid-1980s is the increasing drift towards support for Soviet-style regimes. The SWP was changing its tune. “The Soviet workers’ state is a dynamic and progressive society, whose economy is not a failure”.40
An article by Greg McKeown, which was a brief biography of V.I. Lenin, significantly ends in 1917 and omits any reference to his years in power.41 These were the years in which the social bureaucracy began to emerge and their omission, one suspects, was to avoid any unpleasantness with the SPA concerning the rise of a bureaucracy during those years. Another article that describes the Soviet economy as “fundamentally healthy and vigorous”, omits any reference to the bureaucracy at all.42 We should note that this was before the rise of Gorbachev. A succession of articles followed, with glowing reports of the Soviet43 and East Germany economies.44
The break with the Fourth International
By the end of 1984 Trotskyism was attacked for its alleged view that the Stalinists were automatically the betrayers of world revolution and that this view “overlooked many of the positive achievements of the Communist Parties”, and indeed, “that the concept of Stalinism was a barrier to understanding and relating to the Communist Parties”.45
The formal break with the Fourth International came at the FI World Congress in 1985. The FI was now “an obstacle to revolutionaries actually building a new international revolutionary movement, one with mass influence”.46 This was identified as “a mass revolutionary movement that already does exist and is developing in Latin America”.47
They argued that the foundation of the FI without a mass base in 1938, was a mistake, and that the FI had made a shibboleth of “Stalinism”. Instead, the SWP would seek an identification with, and orientation to, the big revolutionary events in the world and to the living revolutions and their revolutionary vanguards”. Further, that these revolutions were not led by Stalinists, so “there is no need to build a political current separate and distinct from them”.48 Jim Percy and Steve Painter cite an FI writer who claims, “(We) are a historic current that preserves one little thing in particular, an international view of revolution that, from its origins has represented an alternative view of Stalinism”.
To Jim Percy and Doug Lorimer this represents the FI counterpoising itself to the new international revolutionary movements.49 And as if to reassure any doubting members of the SWP, Percy and Lorimer state: this “is not becoming a cheer squad for their revolutions and their leaderships nor seeking some franchise from them”. It was freedom from the Fl and its program that allowed the SWP more freely to relate to the Third World revolutions instead of looking to the working classes of the advanced capitalist countries as the centre of world class struggle.
In his reply to the SWP’s departure from the FI, Ernest Mandel argues that this represents a loss of faith in the working class of the advanced capitalist world. It is hard to disagree with this. Mandel further notes that the liberation of the Third World, to which the SWP now looks, cannot be achieved without a decisive weakening of Western umperialism.50
More to the point, the Central Americans are not positioned to be the source of world revolutionary leadership, for they are undeveloped countries surrounded by Western imperialism, in conditions quite unlike those facing the working classes in the Western world. Furthermore, they have no forces outside their region and none in the imperialist world. They are politically and economically constrained in their ability to extend their revolutions, and their political, but more importantly economic, links with Eastern Europe make it hard for them to play an independent political role in the international arena.
Nor have the Cubans or the Nicaraguans ever claimed this mantle. Indeed, it is hard to see how they could develop a superior strategy for the workers in the imperialist countries to that of the FI, with militants in some 50 countries and in virtually all the developed countries.
Lastly, as Mandel notes, the SWP really had very little to offer the Central Americans other than propaganda support and solidarity activity. The SWP had no economic strength, nor was it a mass party. All it had was its membership of the FI with its analysis and platform developed over a 50-year period. Now the SWP no longer had even that, and having left the FI, it was not surprising that the new international relationship never really eventuated.
Despite the assurances of Percy and Lorimer that the SWP was embracing “a more real internationalism” in turning to the Cubans and the Nicaraguans, the reality was that the SWP was condemned to its national framework. The Gorbachev leadership would fill this void for the SWP best, for, as Dave Holmes acknowledged, the preceding few years had prepared them for their identification with the Gorbachev leadership.51 The SWP now began to legitimise the bureaucracy of which Gorbachev was clearly a part. Glowing and uncritical reports on the Soviet economy were printed.52
Trotsky was deemed irrelevant for his statement that the bureaucracy was an unstable formation. On the contrary, argued Martin Mulligan, “the Soviet economy has not reached the state of development at which the bureaucracy has become totally redundant”.53
The Fl position on the question of Gorbachev, was described as dogmatic, because Mandel had argued that Gorbachev did not represent a fundamentally anti-bureaucratic element, but only the more lucid wing of the bureaucracy, which recognised the gravity of the crisis into which bureaucratic mismanagement had plunged the Soviet Union.54
The SWP argued that Gorbachev was different to the existing bureaucrats because he belonged to a new political generation,55 which were not bureaucrats but merely officials56 and that the Trotskyists had been wrong in concluding from the experiences of 1956-1968 that reform would only come through the insurrection of the masses in a political revolution.
This was supposedly now out of date because the USSR was now a richer and more liberal society than in 1956 or 1968.57 This is as near to an analysis we have of exactly why Gorbachev, as head of the Soviet bureaucracy, would have as his goal the restoration of working-class control of society and the dismantling of the bureaucratic command system. This is not a problem, however, if one equates the interests of the ruling elite with those of the working class, as the SWP increasingly did.
The SWP shot its bolt somewhat when it had lauded the 1983 and 1984 Soviet figures on productivity, as it now had under Gorbachev to detail the same period and report a long-term decline from 1970 on.58
Occasionally a doubt would be expressed, as Doug Lorimer, did when he observed “that openness doesn’t extend to bureaucratic privilege”, for which he cites evidence. But, from mid-1985 until 1990, the line of the SWP was that of the Gorbachev faction.
The SWP ran reprints from Moscow News and invited Soviet-bloc embassy figures to speak at dinners, produced Gorbachev T-shirts, quoted Gorbachev at length without comment and ascribed to the Gorbachev leadership, “a campaign to seep away the bureaucratic obstacles slowing the productive process”59 or in Dick Nichols’ words, “the campaign to create a living socialist democracy in the USSR is making giant strides despite all difficulties”.60
Or again, Dick Nichols: The 19th conference of the CPSU was “to tear out the roots of bureaucratic privilege and control” by democratising the day-to-day administration of the state and economy.61
There is a total identification with the Gorbachev leadership, upon whom the “world’s oppressed” depend, says Renfrey Clarke: “the interests of the world’s oppressed are closely bound up with the struggle to strengthen the Soviet economy”,64 and reflecting the wishful thinking of the bureaucracy he asserts, wishfully perhaps,” that the dissident movement has only 10 per cent support against the Russian CP”,65, and further that the advantages of “socialism have been proved in practice and that the party has earned the right to continue leading the people”.
As the SWP was not arguing the Soviet Union was at this point a workers’ democracy, here is a clear case of the party substituting for the masses in a situation where the masses have no democratic alternative allowed them. The rights and the independent needs of the masses have been excluded. They are now only reflections of perestroika, as can be seen in the SWP response to the huge miners’ strikes in Siberia and elsewhere in June 1989. What surely the largest expression of independent working-class activity for decades was denied any independent interest separate from the perestroika and glasnost of Gorbachev.66
It was not only in the Eastern European sphere that the SWP abrogated the interests of the masses to perestroika. In early 1988 the USSR agreed to leave Afghanistan, having failed to crush the US-backed rebel forces. As events would show, neither did it save the Afghan government. The SWP reaction to the withdrawal is its significance from the viewpoint of the Gorbachev faction. It cites the “benefits of the withdrawal for the development of the Soviet economy”, and the political contrasts that would be made between roles of the USSR in Afghanistan and the US interference in Afghanistan and Central America.67 The wisdom of the invasion in the first place is not discussed.
Gorbachev falters — the SWP retreats
As the late 1980s progressed, the Gorbachev initiatives began to falter, caused by stiff resistance in the bureaucracy to reforms, a growing desire for independence by the various republics and worsening economic prospects. Gorbachev’s popularity kept declining68, but the SWP continued to enthuse about the Soviet economy69 and became unable to distinguish between the desires of the Gorbachev faction and reality.70
In October 1989 the SWP changed its name to Democratic Socialist Party, explaining that it was to reinforce the party’s identification with the Gorbachev reform movement in the USSR and its reflections in other “socialist states”.71
1990 was to confirm the failure of perestroika, but the SWP/DSP had invested enormous energy and political capitalism Gorbachev, identifying the party completely with his plans, or what the SWP took them to be. Although the December 1990 cover of Direct Action proclaimed Gorbachev’s win strengthens socialism72 and the CPSU plenum decision to devolve power from the Central Committee to the Supreme Soviet was hailed as “more power to the people, more socialism”, the fear of failure begins to make itself felt. Dick Nichols seems to want to shift responsibility for the failure of perestroika on to the backs of the working class: “The Gorbachev leadership has provided the working people with some additions to their anti-bureaucratic armoury and it’s up to them to use them”.73
Renfrey Clarke concedes that perestroika has not hit its stride and that the characteristic form of exchange is still the compulsory state order.74 When Lithuania attempted to secede from the USSR, the SWP supported the granting of independence on the basis that “it is the least damaging way out for perestroika”.75
In June 1990, the SWP was still supporting Gorbachev, who was tentatively embracing the market against the Yeltsin-led radicals who wanted a more rapid transition. Nichols accepts that “for a socialist market to be entrenched it will be necessary to raise prices”. Without any explanation of what exactly a socialist market would be, Peter Boyle, the following month76 urged an alliance between the embattled Gorbachev and the leader of the liberal radicals, Boris Yeltsin, for the purpose of combating the conservative bureaucracy that was blocking perestroika. To ascribe socialist democracy to Gorbachev may seem dubious, but to see Yeltsin as an ally in this is a serious misreading of a man who was about to launch his plan for a 500-day transition to the market (the Shatalin Plan).The declining position of Gorbachev was seen in the loss of some 136,600 party members in 1989 alone, but for Peter Boyle a case could be made that this was not a disintegration but the self-purification of the party.
Presumably only bureaucrats were leaving the party, according to Peter Boyle. As Gorbachev’s star waned further, the SWP started to run for ideological cover. In August 1990, Doug Lorimer led with an article entitled Still relevant today: Leon Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism.77 The article states Trotsky’s view of the impossibility of reform of the bureaucracy, which cannot be removed peacefully. Lorimer adds that this analysis was confirmed in Eastern Europe, with the reservation that it was wrong where the reform came from within the party as in Bulgaria, Hungary and the USSR.
As Judy Blatt, in her study,78 shows, this had more to do with the sequence of events rather than a substantial difference. The reservation is there, one suspects, to cover the apparent about-face the SWP was attempting with the decline of Gorbachev.
Renfrey Clarke, so recently optimistic, now writes of the black market and the bureaucracy creating shortages for speculative purposes79 and that the “progress of glasnost and democratisation has not yet been matched by serious reforms in the economy”.80 Clarke describes the three major factions as the hard line bureaucrats, the liberals (Yeltsin), and the very weak socialist current. Of course, in this sketch Gorbachev has disappeared as a viable political tendency. The Direct Action of November 27, 1990, refers to the Crisis in bureaucratic socialism — Stalinism81, which is a real turnaround from the “socialist democracy” or “socialism” used only weeks before.
Gorbachev’s attempted blending of the Yeltsin 500-day plan and the conservatives’ five to six year transition to the market (in the so-called Guidelines), was the first occasion for the SWP to criticise Gorbachev from a working-class viewpoint; here they chastised Gorbachev for being weakest in the defence of socialism in the USSR, namely in workers’ self-management. Self-management is a conception of socialism that the SWP had abrogated in favour of a reformist revolution from above. A report from a 1990 miners’ conference in the USSR, reprinted from an FI source, makes clear the hostility of the miners to the CPSU.82
For the miners, at least, the distinction between bureaucrats and reformers that the SWP had built its politics upon for some five years meant nothing.
By the end of 1990 it was clear that the SWP had no coherent line on the Soviet Union. Gorbachev disappears from view in the paper, and other than the occasional interview, like Renfrey Clarke’s innocuous piece about youth, there is a striking reduction in coverage of the Soviet Union, and almost no comment at all. Instead, the SWP begins in early 1991 to run articles highly critical of Gorbachev and perestroika by leading Soviet socialist dissenters, like Boris Kagarlitsky83 and Alexander Buzgalin84, of the Marxist Platform tendency of the CPSU, who was attending the Fourth International World Congress at the time of publication.
Ernest Mandel is again reprinted, not because of the SWP’s reconversion to Trotskyism,85 but because the SWP’s politics on Gorbachev and the USSR have left them nothing to say. The interviews with Kagarlitsky are humiliating affairs for the SWP, as the Soviet radicals demolishing a few sentences the ideas of the SWP. Kagarlitsky notes, for example, “that some sections of the Western left had an idea that perestroika was an attempt to establish a democratic and prosperous state in Russia. This was never true, not for a single day”.86 He adds that its real aims were to increase the manageability of the system, which had got out of hand, and to win some respectability in the West. Whether we accept Kagarlitsky’s view or not, it was cold comfort for the SWP.
Ignoring the previous seven years of SWP politics and practice, Doug Lorimer, in a September 1992 pamphlet titled The Collapse of Communism in the USSR87 attributes the failure of perestroika to Gorbachev’s continued reliance on the CPSU to be the driving force of the democratisation process, rather than promoting the independent self-organisation of the Soviet masses.”
As to why the SWP supported the Gorbachev leadership rather than the self-organisation of the Soviet masses as the motor of change was not answered, and one suspects never will be.
Some conclusions about the DSP and the ISO
We have examined the performance of the SWP and the IS during the period of bureaucratic crisis and fall in the USSR from the viewpoint of the basic tenets of Marxism.
The IS, despite its turn to the students, stresses in its propaganda an allegiance to the working class and socialism from below. Such declarations, no matter how sincerely expressed, are no substitute for a dialectical materialist method.
Dialectical because so much of IS reasoning is based on black-and-white scenarios. Either the former USSR was socialist or it was capitalist. That the USSR might bean unfinished revolution with elements of both capitalism and socialism seems never to have been considered. The same logic appears in the turn to propagandism, which may look tactically understandable given the fall in working-class militancy, but is this the criterion that should be used?
The working class is forced by its condition and situation to struggle periodically against the demands of capital and that is why Marxists should attempt at all times to maintain a presence in the class. For the IS, either the working class was militant, in which case rank-and-file activism was the response, or it was not militant, in which case one abandoned the class and turned to the students. This is not Marxism, nor as the events of 1989-90 showed, was it an adequate analysis.
The SWP, on the other hand, did have the basic theory at its disposal, in part by its membership of a 50-party international, but it appeared to be guided more by organisational ambitions than any fidelity to the basics of Marxism. The failure of both parties to pass the test of Eastern Europe was therefore not a failure of Marxism, but the abandonment of its central precepts. The opportunism of both parties, if not corrected, makes the allegiance of ordinary workers that much less likely. A party that will shift its allegiance in a period of downturn is not a reliable option, nor is a party that can be seduced by the perceived opportunities for organisational growth at the expense of representing the working class.
What is not encouraging for the revival of the socialist alternative is the complete absence of any public self-criticism of the mistakes made. Indeed the IS seems unaware of its theoretical and political impasse. If the political method that is responsible for such mistakes is not questioned when it proves to be inadequate, then not only will the IS not gain in understanding, but it will continue to repeat the same mistakes. In the case of the IS that will mean continuing with its diet of propaganda and demonstrations, and in the case of the SWP, looking for the next short-cut opportunity for growth.
Even within the parties, self-criticism will not be possible if the organisation does not allow a genuinely open, democratic discussion within its ranks. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in practice this does not happen, although confirmation would require access to the internal records of the parties. It is not only internal self criticism that is required. If, in the long term, either the IS or the SWP did manage to establish a real base in the working class, not only must the party establish lines of communication to the class, it must allow means by which the class can communicate its concerns and state of awareness to the party, particularly when the party seems to have lost its way. How can parties like the SWP and the IS hope to establish a relationship with militant workers if all the questioning and debate is restricted to the leadership circles of the party?
Also vital to the future of these parties is the nature of the internal education offered to new members. The importance of theory for a Marxist party cannot be overestimated. Does education in Marxist theory equip members with the ability to apply a Marxist analysis, or does it simply use them as paper sellers and fund raisers prepared to accept the current slogan of the day?
Again, until the internal life of these parties is accessible, we are limited to supposition as to current and future practice. Likewise, only the future will decide if Marxism and working-class struggle have been fatally wounded by the fall of “Communism”.
As for Australia, it is hard to imagine that the working class will abandon whatever means it has to defend its interests, simply because of the collapse of the USSR. Working-class interests remain the same, and therefore the inevitability of class struggle remains. It is the meshing of this class struggle with the achievement of socialist objectives that has been damaged by the fall of Stalinism in Eastern Europe, not least in the Soviet Union.
Despite that, it is far too early for Western commentators to bury Marxism. Who will be brave enough to predict the absence of class struggle in the medium term in the former Soviet Union or in the boom economies of South-East Asia, with their appalling conditions and growing working class? And when such an upturn in worker militancy occurs, abroad or in Australia, the validity of Marxism unburdened by the legacy of Stalinism would again beg for attention. As with every rise in working-class activity, the class will look for effective leadership, as it has always done.
One may doubt whether this leadership will include the present-day SWP or IS.
1. The SWP had its origins in the youth radicalisation of the early 1960s, in particular the struggle against Australian involvement in the war in Vietnam, which grew rapidly in 1965, the year the Menzies Government introduced conscription.
Faced with the slow response of the Communist Party of Australia to this radicalisation, the young student activists responded quickly to the ideas of individual Trotskyists who were also members of the Vietnam Action Campaign. For more details see John Percy, A History of the Democratic Socialist Party, DSP Publications, Sydney, January 1990, pp 5-15.
Until 1970, when there was a functioning party, the main vehicle for the emerging SWP was the youth organisation, Resistance. The Vietnam war, the example of the Cubans supporting revolutionary movements in Latin America, and the events of May 1968 in France, all confirmed and extended the anti-imperialist and international perspective of the youth movement as well as entrenching a hostility to bureaucracy and Stalinism. This direction was confirmed by the Soviet suppression of the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968.
7. For Trotsky see Direct Action Nos 20, May 1972; No 54 January 26, 1974; No 78, February 7, 1975; No 92, August 21, 1975; No 94, September 18, 1975; No 98, November 6, 1975. For Mandel, see No 3, December 1970; No 8, July 1971; No 11, November 1971; No 16, March 22, 1972; No 21, June 9, 1972; No 38, March 29, 1973); No 48, September 27, 1973; No 69, September 2, 1974; No 121, June 17, 1976); No 135, September 23, 1976; No 207, May 18, 1978).
9. In place of the internationalism of Marx and Lenin the SWP substituted the sort of internationalism described earlier in reference to the CPA: “Its internationalism is that it belongs to the world Stalinist movement”. (Direct Action, No 44, July 19, 1973, p 22) This was not before the SWP declared the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions to be the new international focus for revolutionaries.
The Soviet view, adopted by Communist Parties throughout the world, was that there were two stages: the bourgeois democratic stage, in which the workers’ parties would support the local bourgeoisie in achieving national independence from imperialism, and the sweeping away of feudal relics, and in which the workers and peasants would not violate bourgeois property relations. Only at a later stage would the working-class take power in its own right, when democratic tasks such as universal franchise, land reform and equality before the law had been achieved under a capitalist system. This stages theory was first advanced by the Mensheviks and Lenin in the early 1900s. Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, by V.I. Lenin, Moscow). They differed mainly on which class would lead the democratic stage.
This was Lenin’s position until April 1917, when he broke with the stages theory and arrived back in Russia with the slogan: “all power to the Soviets”. Letters from Afar, by V.I. Lenin, The April Theses, by V.I. Lenin. This was a call for a revolution led by the working class, which would not treat the achievement of the democratic tasks and the building of socialism as separate historical stages. The democratic tasks noted above were now to be achieved under the rule of the workers and peasants as part of the process of building socialism. See E.H. Carr The Bolshevik Revolution, Macmillan, 1950, pp 79-86. Carr cites statements by Stalin repeating the new line, which Carr sees as an acceptance of Trotsky’s thesis of 1906 (In In Results and Prospects, Leon Trotsky).
It was Stalin who revived the stages theory to support his attempted alliance with the bourgeois leadership of Chiang Kai Shek, and it was his directive to the Chinese Communist Party to accept Kuomintang leadership in achieving the “democratic stage” that led to the slaughter of thousands of Communists and the loss of the Communist Party’s urban base. (See The Tragedy in China by Harold Isaacs, first edition).
One does not have to accept Trotsky’s formulation of the theory of combined, or permanent, revolution to note the absence of stages as outlined in the theory, in all the successful revolutions that have put worker and peasant governments in power, whether they be Russia 1917, Cuba 1959, Nicaragua 1979, Vietnam 1975 and Yugoslavia 1946-7 or China 1949. These last two revolutions proceeded despite Stalin’s attempt to limit their revolutions to the bourgeois stage. For the theory of permanent revolution see Leon Trotsky, Tasks and Prospects, 1906, in Permanent Revolution, Pathfinder, 1927.
On the other hand, where the stages theory was successfully imposed on the local revolutionary movement and the revolutionary workers and peasants were confined to bourgeois limits, unable to attack the institutions of private property, the result was invariably bloody defeat. We need only name China 1927, Spain 1936, France 1936, Italy and France after the Second World War and Indonesia 1965, to make the point. Apart from Trotsky’s own writings on the Chinese, Spanish and French examples, which may be found in Trotsky’s Writings, 1929-40, Pathfinder Press, New York; see also Stalinism in Britain by Robert Black, New Park, London, 1974, Defeat in Indonesia, by Ernest Mandel, on Cuba: The First Congress of the Cuban CP, in 1975, declared: “There is no insurmountable barrier between the democratic-popular and anti-imperialist stage. In the era of imperialism both are part of a single process”. Cited in Socialist Worker, Vol 2, No 2, November 1982, p 28, New Course Publications. See also, C. Thomas Dalton, op cit, p 26).
Whatever else the theory of permanent revolution may lack in specifics, its insistence on the political independence of the working class worldwide is at the heart of Marxism.
The two theories and their practice were incompatible. The SWP adherence to the theory of permanent revolution was a barrier to any reconciliation with Stalinism and it was dumped in the early 1980s. The first step was to drop Trotsky’s name from the theory. In a resolution on Cuba for the January 1983 (Socialist Worker, Vol 2, No 2, November 1982, p 28) National Conference, the theory was referred to as “the Marxist-Leninist theory of uninterrupted (permanent) revolution” and “The Leninist strategy of permanent revolution” no doubt because the name of Trotsky would be anathema to the SPA which the SWP had already begun to court. Later accounts arguing for the stages theory refer to it as Lenin’s two-stage theory of revolution. Lenin has thus been designated as the author of two opposing theories. Jim Percy and Doug Lorimer, Socialist Worker, Vol 4, No 3, September 1989, p 54. Also, A History of the Democratic Socialist Party, by John Percy, op cit, p 43.
11. This is of interest because in 1977 bureaucratic rule is seen as the antithesis of workers’ democracy. By 1985 this same bureaucratic regime would be seen as the vehicle for the introduction of that same workers’ democracy without “the need to carry out a political revolution to overthrow the bureaucratic dictatorships” as expressed by Doug Lorimer in 1978. Direct Action No 237, December 14, 1978.
12. Socialist Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Fl Publishers, 1977.
13. As late as February 1990 Gorbachev was still resisting the removal of Article Six from the Soviet Constitution, which gave the CPSU its sole-party status. The Second Russian Revolution, by Angus Roxburgh, BBC, London, 1990, p 171.
23. Allen Myers in Direct Action No 283, January 17, 1980, p l. Anthony Hyman op cit, p 120, notes that the PDPA reforms and public declarations did not prevent abuses of power, revenge killings and corruption.
30. In such a context the statements of Allen Myers that the Afghan workers need a mass revolutionary party and that they should take the Cuban road appears as face-saving, given that the Soviet invasion ensures that neither piece of advice can possibly be taken up, much less the right to self-determination, which has been extinguished with SWP approval. Direct Action No 308, July 16, 1980, pp 10-11).
31. This is the two camps position defined by SWP spokesperson Nita Keig in terms “that one is the imperialist bloc led by the US and the other is the “worker’s states” including the USSR; this despite the development of a Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR” (Direct Action No 284.
35. This is not to suggest that the views of the SPA and the SWP were identical. During the rise of Solidarity in Poland the SPA predictably supported the Polish government while the SWP supported Solidarity. Other differences concerned the ALP, but more revealing was the stated differences with the SPA. The SPA saw the US arms build-up and the threat to the USSR as the real area of concentration, whereas the SWP argued that the revolutions in Central America were more significant. This was a difference that, so far as the SWP was concerned, would soon disappear. Direct Action No 464, p 4 (op cit).
39. Direct Action had earlier attacked the CPA for its role in the Prices-Incomes Accord, denouncing it as class-collaborationist and a sell-out of working-class interests. In 1986 the CPA began to make criticisms of the performance of the Accord and the Labor government, but with no suggestion of any repudiation of the Accord itself.
The closer relationship the SWP was now seeking with the CPA prompted the SWP to run quiet on the Accord, which was de-emphasised. A Direct Action report on the “important new party discussions” had no reference at all to the Accord. (Direct Action
No 595, December 10, 1986, p 14.
44. East Germany, the most hard-line of the Stalinised states, is praised for its growing economy. This praise is based on unquestioned East German statistics, while the workers are said to have had steady wage rises over the years. Almost as a footnote, the lack of workers’ democracy in East Germany is described as merely “a bad advert” and “a brake on economic development”. This would provide little comfort to the East German workers as it is a view that embraced the bureaucracy. Direct Action No 494, September 5, 1984, pp 14-15.
45. Direct Action No 500, p 14. Andrew Milner in 1984 (op cit, p 42), refers to the SWP as the most pro-Soviet wing of the Australian New Left, and an enthusiastic apologist for Trotsky’s murderers. This seems a little harsh but the comparison with the earlier stance of the SWP is clearly noted.
51. Direct Action No 550, December 4, 1985, p 17. Part of this preparation was the “campist” position: the view that the world class struggle is between the camp of imperialism and the camp of socialism. This led to the SWP reversing its earlier historical judgments, particularly about the counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism.
The bloody repression of the Vietnamese Trotskyists by the Saigon Communist Party in 1945 was justified, although the excesses were regretted. Allan Myers, The Vietnam Revolution and its Leadership, Pathfinder Press Australia, 1984, based on a report approved by the SWP National Committee). The events in Saigon were a social conflict between a privileged bureaucratic caste and the workers, as the 1984 Australian SWP Congress resolution still acknowledged. Did this mean that the workers did not have the right to a party that was opposed to, and independent of, the privileged bureaucracy? Apparently the SWP now thought not. This was to be the SWP’s new internationalism. In December 1986, John Garcia rewrote the history of the Spanish Civil War from the viewpoint of Stalin in such a blatant manner that it provoked a letter in the following issue that cites the inconvenient history omitted by the article. Direct Action No 594, December 3, 1986, pp 8-9).
66. Direct Action buried a short article on the strikes on page 10; it was short on detail. The article, titled Soviet Union: Miners, Gorbachev Attack Bureaucrats, Direct Action
No 705, August 1, 1989, p 10, turned this working-class protest into an action in support of Gorbachev. It argued that the strikes were not only concerned about conditions and pay but were “an enormous display of force in favour of perestroika against bureaucratic bungling, inertia and corruption”. Neither does it square with the professed hatred of the miners for the Communist Party, considering it to have “betrayed the interests of the toilers” as reported in Direct Action later. Direct Action No 766, December 4, 1990, pp 8-9.
(b) Yegor Ligachev Inside Gorbachev’s Kremlin, Pantheon, New York, 1993, p 312.
(c) Hedrick Smith The New Russians, New York, Random House, 1990, pp 563-4.
70. As these statements from Direct Action show: No 713, April 26, 1989, “The rise in Soviet living standards is fact”; No 679, December 6, 1988, “in the Baltic region today only a minority support secession from the USSR”; No 684, December 21, 1989, quoting Gorbachev — “Our Cuban brothers can be sure of the unfailing solidarity of the Soviet Union with the island of freedom. Soviet-Cuban friendship is indestructible”; No 689, April 9, 1989, “It is worth noting that in other respects [other than the budget deficit — CG] the Soviet economy is much more soundly based than the US”; No 663, August 9, 1988, in an article on the Soviet economy Renfrey Clarke claims that the economy is in the “throes of a considerable consumer boom” although the same author, 12 months later (No 713, September 26, 1989) is explaining the long queues for consumer goods as the result of “excessive demand.
83. Green Left Weekly February 25, 1991, Interview with B. Kagarlitsky, A. Popov and V. Kondratov
84. Interview with A. Buzgalin, Green Left Weekly, February 18, 1991.
85. Ernest Mandel, For Democracy and Socialism, Green Left Weekly, April 17, 1991.
86. Interview with B. Kagarlitsky, A. Popov and V. Kondratov, Green Left Weekly, February 25, 1991.
First published in Labor Review, No 19, 1994