Fourth International 1992: The end of the Soviet Union


This volume records nearly a year of intense theoretical activity by the International Committee of the Fourth International, from summer 1991 to the early summer of 1992. The articles cover a wide range of political topics: the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the Maastricht summit in Europe, the series of spring elections in a number of the European countries, the ongoing decay of the American labor movement, the coups in Algeria and Haiti, the deepening political crisis in India, and, finally, the civil war in Yugoslavia. These analyses reflect the development of Marxism under conditions of the deepening world crisis of the capitalist system and of unprecedented crisis in the workers movement.

The documents also record the extensive political activity of the International Committee during the past year, which includes public meetings in the former Soviet Union, the holding of the World Conference of Workers against Imperialism and War in Berlin, the founding of the International Labor Defense and the worldwide campaign launched by the ILD in defense of a framed-up American worker, Roger Cawthra.

The first major section of the volume is devoted to the documents of the World Conference of Workers against Imperialist War and Colonialism which was held by the International Committee in Berlin on November 16-17, 1991. The conference provided an assessment of the political situation in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, as well as the crisis in the Soviet Union.

The conference also drew a political balance sheet of the protracted struggle waged by the Trotskyist movement against the Soviet bureaucracy and against the apologists for Stalinism in the Pabloite opportunist international led by Ernest Mandel. The opening report to the conference noted that the events in the Soviet Union had refuted the entire perspective upon which Mandel’s politics had been based over the past four decades: that the Stalinist bureaucracy remained a revolutionary force and that socialism would be eventually realized under its auspices. For the Pabloites, the states set up by Stalinism in Eastern Europe were prototypes of the form which socialism would necessarily take over an entire historical epoch which, in their estimation, could last for centuries. The conference noted that the political evolution of Mandel into an ardent defender of Gorbachev’s restorationist program and the direct collaboration of the Pabloites with the Stalinists of the Modrow regime in the unification of Germany on a capitalist basis had utterly vindicated the International Committee’s 40-year struggle against opportunism.

The significance of the conference and, indeed, of the whole history of Trotskyism was further underscored by the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on December 8, 1991. The documents published here record the ongoing analysis made by the International Committee of the final climactic stage of the Soviet Union between the time of the attempted putsch in August and the meeting in Minsk in December.

Particular attention should be drawn to the report by David North on “The End of the USSR,” which concentrates on the political implications of the dissolution of the Soviet Union from the standpoint of the program of the Fourth International. Prior to December 8, the Fourth International, basing itself on Trotsky’s writings, had continued to define the Soviet Union as a workers state. However, as North explained, that definition could not be applied to the CIS. In no way could the CIS be described as a state which defended, if only in a distorted form, the nationalized property relations which had been established on the basis of October 1917. As Trotsky warned long ago, the protracted bureaucratic degeneration led ultimately to the liquidation of the workers state created 74 years earlier by the Bolsheviks.

It is of some significance that this analysis has provoked outrage among various opportunist groups, particularly the surviving factions of the Workers Revolutionary Party, one led by Sheila Torrance and the other led by Cliff Slaughter. Both groups maintain that a workers state continues to exist in the Soviet Union. As amazing as it may seem, the Torrance group barely acknowledge that the Soviet Union has ceased to exist and scarcely refer to the existence of the CIS. They deny, in fact, that these events represent any setback for the working class at all.

At the center of their argument is the claim that, as long as at least 51 percent of the property remains state-owned, the ex-USSR must be defined as a workers state, regardless of the political and social character of the state power. News Line, the paper of the WRP, stated in March that “the rule of the working class... still exists in the form of the nationalized property relations of the USSR.” This is a crude distortion of the position of Trotsky, who insisted that the Soviet Union remained a workers state only to the extent that the state defended the property relations established on the basis of the October Revolution. The WRP simply denies that this was Trotsky’s position.

The WRP’s insistence that the existence of nationalization is equivalent to a workers state is a position common to virtually all left petty-bourgeois groups. While mouthing phrases about socialism, they envision a form of “socialism” which precludes the independent and conscious struggle of the working class for state power.

The political implications of the line of the WRP become clearest when one examines a series of articles which appeared in the News Line in January devoted to glorifying what the Torrance group refers to as “the Red Army.” It must be noted at the outset that there is no such thing as the Red Army. The Red Army was destroyed long ago by Stalin. The Soviet army under Stalin had as much to do with the Red Army of Lenin and Trotsky as Stalin’s GPU had to do with the CHEKA of the early Soviet state. What the WRP calls the Red Army is the army which suppressed the Hungarian Revolution, which suppressed the Czechoslovakian working class in 1968 and was sent into Afghanistan in a completely counterrevolutionary escapade in 1979-80. It is, in fact, notorious for the brutality with which its officer caste treated its recruits and conscripts and which is without parallel in the army in any major capitalist state.

But this officer caste is glorified by the News Line and among those singled out for special praise is Colonel Viktor Alksnis. His views have been widely published in the Soviet and international press to the effect that he not only supports a capitalist market, but he insists that such a market can only be established on the basis of a military dictatorship. Alksnis, the “Black Colonel,” has declared that his personal hero is Colonel Augusto Pinochet of Chile. Nevertheless, the News Line series concludes with the following panegyric: “The Red Army, founded by Trotsky to defend the young Soviet state against imperialism, built despite the destructive policies of Stalinism” and “steeled in the defense of the USSR against Nazi Germany” is to play the “decisive role in the revolutionary events now erupting in the USSR.”

What this means, in so many words, is that if the Russian military launches a coup d’etat against Yeltsin, the Torrance-led WRP will proclaim this a heroic action of the Red Army taken in defense of the workers state and which must be supported. This position, which happens to be very close to that of the neo-Stalinist Spartacist group, would soon have the Torrance group rubbing shoulders with out-and-out Russian fascists. They seek to subordinate the working class to the military, to tell the working class to accept the leadership of the military while cynically misleading the workers about the implications of the type of military coup which they hope for. The position of the Torrance group is completely reactionary and it demonstrates that, contained in the controversy over the definition of the existing state are social forces and interests which represent very different political trajectories.

It might appear at first glance that the positions of Torrance are simply freakish. However, they turn out to be by no means an aberration. Cliff Slaughter’s fragment of the WRP takes a similar position, though phrased in a more sophisticated, or perhaps a better word is cynical, way. In a lengthy but extremely confused and circuitous article in the May issue of their magazine, The International, Slaughter makes an attempt to oppose the evaluation made by the International Committee. Slaughter joins Torrance in arguing that the crucial consideration in determining the class nature of the state is the existence of the nationalized property relations. Although he acknowledges that “the state apparatus is no longer an instrument for the defense of the nationalized property” and that “in this sense, today’s state in the USSR is not a workers state, degenerated or otherwise,” he argues that the former Soviet Union is nevertheless a workers state because “this state has not been replaced by a capitalist state, and nationalized property relations have not been replaced by capitalist relations.”

The anti-Marxist logic of Slaughter’s argument compels him to make an astonishing theoretical admission. In the course of this article, Slaughter concedes that his arguments are not compatible with the Leninist (i.e., Marxist) definition of the state. He says that the class nature of the CIS cannot be established “by asking who controls the bodies of armed men or even in whose class interests the state works.” Slaughter admits that he is working through a definition of the state “different from... the way Lenin talks about the state (‘bodies of armed men,’ instrument of oppression of one class or classes by a ruling class) in The State and Revolution.” This is, to put it bluntly, a repudiation of Marxism. Slaughter ludicrously claims that his definition of the state is that of Trotsky. But nowhere in the writings of Trotsky is there a single word that suggests that his concept of the state was in any way different from Lenin’s. As a matter of fact, in the crucial third chapter of The Revolution Betrayed, “Socialism and the State,” Trotsky repeatedly cited and based himself explicitly on Lenin’s State and Revolution.[1] If nothing else, this article testifies to the intellectual disintegration which Slaughter has undergone since his break with the International Committee in 1985. Indeed, it is apparent that he is, by this point, simply incapable of serious theoretical work.

Slaughter goes on to argue that there are no social forces upon which capitalist restoration can base itself. He says: “The Communist Party of the Soviet Union which controlled and organized these functions of control has crumbled. There is no replacement. None of the political tendencies or parties hatching out of the bureaucracy—liberals, democrats, social democrats, nationalists of every hue, fascists—has any roots, that is, any historically formed organic connections in the classes which make up Soviet society.”

In making this assessment, Slaughter speaks as if world imperialism played no role whatever in this process. He completely divorces the Soviet Union from world politics and the world economy.

But it was Stalinism, not Marxism, which said that the fate of the USSR would be determined primarily by purely national factors. Despite Slaughter’s presentation of the situation, the combined forces of European, American and Japanese imperialism intervene in every aspect of the political and economic life of the CIS and, to a great extent, compensate for the weakness of the social forces upon which capitalist restoration is being based.

At any rate, the claim that there exists no social basis for capitalist restoration in the former USSR reveals a considerable ignorance of the dynamics of Soviet society over the last generation. Five years ago, in the book, The Heritage We Defend, David North drew attention to the significance of the social elements involved in the “black market” in the Soviet Union. He quoted official estimates that some 17 to 20 million people within the Soviet Union participated directly in this black market. The emerging cooperative movement in the Soviet Union had its origins in the enormous growth in the economic influence of the black market in the 1970s and early 1980s. In an economy plagued by chronic shortages, the black market filled up all the crevices of the economy. The enormous influence of this parallel market in Soviet society found its most overt political expression in the increasing and blatant corruption of the bureaucratic regime. By the end of Brezhnev’s reign, the entire ruling stratum, to a great extent, expressed the influence of a capitalist black market in the USSR.

One can now appreciate the significance of one of the most decisive steps taken by Gorbachev early in his administration, that is, his legalization of the black market which provided an enormous impulse to the development of capitalist activities within the Soviet Union. There is no shortage of social elements upon which the restoration of capitalism is being based. Moreover, unless consciously suppressed by a regime devoted to the defense of a planned economy, the law of value asserts itself spontaneously. Slaughter, who no longer reads Marx or troubles himself with such “arcane” problems of theory, ignores all of this.

Slaughter finally staggers to the following amazing conclusion: The states of the CIS “are governed by governments of fragments and allies of the bureaucracy which we must call bourgeois governments in accordance with the social forces whose interests they represent,” but “they are not capitalist states.”

What a fantastic concoction! The states of the CIS are led by bourgeois governments that rule in the interests of an emerging bourgeoisie, but still must be considered workers states! This is, indeed, a new phenomenon, previously unknown to both history and Marxism.

Finally, Slaughter comes to his political conclusion. He says: “The state, in the sense of bodies of armed men, the means of oppression, is in the hands of what remains of the bureaucracy. But this bureaucracy is in fragments. Not only is it nationally fragmented, there is an insoluble and volatile dislocation between the state administration and the armed forces, absolutely essential to the viability of any state.” He presents his own flattering depiction of the military, saying: “It is of the greatest importance that the Red Army itself, even though professionalized by the Stalinist methods of decades, consists not only of the officer bureaucratic caste but of millions of sons and daughters of workers and peasants.” And he tells us: “The state power is not so much Tying on the ground intact waiting to be picked up by one of the contending forces,’ but rather, broken into its component parts.” These “component parts” are “the bodies of armed men or repressive apparatus severed from its social base—and needing to be put together by the working class in the political revolution, overthrowing the bureaucracy.” In other words, the working class has to help the army to regroup and bring together the shattered fragments of the old state. That would supposedly represent the political revolution.

So, by a more circuitous route, Slaughter arrives at a position very similar to that of Sheila Torrance. Their aim is quite clearly to provide a political justification for an alignment with sections of the bureaucracy which come into conflict with the Yeltsin regime. But a conflict between Yeltsin and different factions of the old bureaucracy is not a conflict through which the interests of the working class can be expressed. During the debate which took place at the Congress of People’s Deputies in April, at which the Yeltsin government came under sharp attack from various factions among the delegates, none of these factions identified themselves as defenders of socialism and opponents of capitalism. Indeed, the most significant attack on the program of Yeltsin was launched by sections of the old Stalinist bureaucracy who accused him of selling out to foreign capitalists and of taking care only of those sections of speculators who are sending their money overseas.

With this criticism, these elements represented not defenders of socialism, but rather a section of the bureaucracy and emerging bourgeoisie which fear that the attitude of the Yeltsin regime is too shortsighted and insufficiently aware of the long-term interests of the development of a specifically Russian capitalism. This faction, which made up a significant part of the old Stalinist regime, may yet produce the most determined and far-sighted elements of a new bourgeoisie who could be brought onto the scene if the first layer of bourgeois politicians fails. And, if they were to come to power, it would certainly be with the backing of a section of the Russian military bureaucracy which has had among its functions the task of representing the national interests of the Soviet bureaucracy.

The states which have been established in the former Soviet republics have not yet been able to consolidate themselves and lurch from one crisis to another. It is crucial for the working class to understand that they are capitalist states so that it can smash them before they have time to establish themselves on a firmer foundation. In claiming that these states are workers states, Slaughter and Torrance have shown that they are prepared to go to the most extraordinary lengths to confuse the issue and promote an alliance with the military. These opportunist tendencies seek to deflect the working class away from a confrontation with the state while it is still weak. They are working to buy time for the most conscious enemies of the working class.

* * *

In this issue also we are publishing the report to the 12th Plenum of the International Committee held in March 1992. This report deepened the historical analysis of the character of Stalinism and its impact on the development of the working-class movement. Internationally, the Stalinist bureaucracy systematically betrayed the revolutionary struggles of the working class. Inside the Soviet Union, as the report explains, the bureaucracy, under Stalin, in physically annihilating its revolutionary opponents, carried through the destruction of “the greatest conquest of Marxism: the development of the revolutionary political consciousness of the working class, the transformation of an oppressed and exploited mass into a conscious historical force.”

This fact is of enormous importance for an understanding of the present crisis of the labor movement. The working class requires the highest level of revolutionary consciousness, brought about through the intervention of the Marxist party, if it is to achieve its historic tasks of providing a progressive solution to the problems produced by capitalism. The crisis in the labor movement will be overcome through the struggle of the Fourth International, represented today by the International Committee, to develop socialist consciousness in the most advanced layers of the working class and the best elements of the intelligentsia. The Fourth International must rebuild a Marxist culture in the international workers movement.

The global organization of production which has transformed the world economy has, at the same time, brought to the surface the bankruptcy of the old labor organizations which developed on the basis of nationalism. Such parties and unions are now completely unable to defend even the most minimal interests of the working class. The struggle of the Fourth International for revolutionary internationalism has been powerfully strengthened by this development of the world economy. The political and organizational unification of the working class on a world scale is now the most practical necessity for the international workers movement.

Finally, as we go to press, events in the former Yugoslavia have made it imperative to include, even if somewhat out of chronological order, a statement by the Workers League on the war in the Balkans. If ever there was a compelling illustration of the bankruptcy of the capitalist nation-state system and its inability to resolve the problems of the national divisions, it is this fratricidal struggle. As the statement shows, the horrors of “ethnic cleansing” are the products of the imperialist drive to restore capitalism, dismember the states of the region and subordinate the population to the most extreme levels of exploitation. Here again, the working class is paying a terrible price for the betrayals of its leaderships, as petty-bourgeois politicians strive to secure a more favorable niche for their weak national economies in a world market ruled by imperialism. And, once more, it is the program of the Fourth International which can alone provide a way forward for the embattled masses.


See Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed: What Is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? [Detroit: Labor Publications, 1991], pp. 39-55.