Fourth International 1990: The end of the Soviet Union

Trotsky’s Analysis of the Soviet Union Has Been Vindicated by History

The following are remarks given by David North to the Philosophical Department at Kiev University, and the discussion which followed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak with you today. I have come to the Soviet Union as a representative of the International Committee of the Fourth International, which is the World Party of Socialist Revolution founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938. The International Committee has sections in the United States, in Canada, in Britain, Germany, Sri Lanka, India and Australia. We have contacts with workers, students and intellectuals in many other countries of the world.

The relationship of Trotskyism to the international working class is undergoing a profound change because the old organizations of the working class, both Stalinist and social democratic, have been rapidly discredited. I don’t believe anyone here can seriously dispute that Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet Union has been vindicated by history. The theory of national socialism promulgated by Stalin and Bukharin in 1924 has led to a catastrophic failure. The idea that socialism could be built in a backward country independently of the development of the international revolution has been proven false.

Although this failure is evident to all, the actual reason for the crisis in the Soviet Union remains unclear to millions of people in this country. Stalinism systematically miseducated, disoriented and lied to the population of the Soviet Union. What it called Marxism had nothing whatsoever in common with the revolutionary dialectical method promulgated by Marx and developed so brilliantly by Lenin and Trotsky. For all the official proclamations praising and even deifying Marx, in no country was the utilization of Marxism as a method of analysis so strictly forbidden. And it is for that reason that the crisis of the Soviet Union erupted without anyone, least of all Gorbachev, being able to understand what was happening. But for the Trotskyist movement, these events did not come as a surprise. Since the founding of the Fourth International, our movement has warned that Stalinism was leading inevitably to the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union. Trotsky wrote that the Thermidorian reaction which followed the October Revolution and led to the consolidation of power by the bureaucracy was the first stage of bourgeois counterrevolution in the USSR. In his great book The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky predicted that the bureaucratic caste would inevitably seek to root its privileges more firmly in bourgeois forms of property. This is what is happening today.

Because we have limited time and I wish to leave time for questions, I will make only a few essential points about the organization I represent. The Fourth International was founded in 1938. It was the culmination of the struggle against the Soviet bureaucracy and Stalinism which had been initiated by Trotsky and the Left Opposition in 1923. The theoretical foundations of our world organization were laid down in the course of that struggle. But these foundations have been continuously renewed and developed in the course of the political struggles through which the Fourth International has passed during the past 53 years.

Just as the pre-1917 development of Marxism in Russia proceeded through the political struggles inside the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party between 1901 and 1917, contemporary Marxism is the product of the political and ideological struggles inside the Fourth International. The principal struggle which we have conducted inside the Fourth International has been against those who in one form or another adapted to Stalinism; who maintained that Stalinism, despite its historical betrayals of the Soviet and international working class, still had a progressive historical role to play.

In 1953, there was a split inside the Fourth International. The split was caused for the following reasons. In the aftermath of Stalin’s death, a tendency developed inside the Fourth International, led by Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel, which claimed that the Stalinist bureaucracy did not have to be overthrown by a political revolution of the working class. Rather, according to Mandel and Pablo, the bureaucracy was transforming itself into a progressive revolutionary tendency on a world scale. They pointed to the states in Eastern Europe as examples of how the Stalinist bureaucracy could lead socialist revolutions. They went so far as to claim that these “deformed” workers states in Eastern Europe were the prototypes of future socialist states throughout the world.

The International Committee was formed by a fraction of orthodox Trotskyists which rejected this revision of the founding program of the Fourth International. It insisted that to attribute to Stalinism any progressive role was to abandon the program of the Fourth International and to betray the interests of the working class. The International Committee denounced the Pablo-Mandel group as a revisionist tendency which functioned as apologists for the Stalinists and which helped to strengthen the grip of the Soviet bureaucracy.

The split with the Pablo-Mandel revisionists was essential to the defense of the Fourth International; and history has vindicated the very difficult fight that the International Committee has waged against the pro-Stalinist line of Mandel. Throughout his long and disreputable career, Mandel has served as an attorney for one or another section of the Stalinist bureaucracies in the USSR, Eastern Europe and China. At one time or another, Mandel has embraced Stalinists like Mao, Gomulka, Khrushchev, Dubcek, Carrillo and, finally, Gorbachev—hailing them as leaders of progressive, semi-Trotskyist tendencies inside the Stalinist bureaucracy. In his most recent book Beyond Perestroika, Mandel went so far as to claim that perestroika was the realization of the ideas of Leon Trotsky.

The International Committee never accepted that any section of the bureaucracy could play a progressive role; and that is why we were able to understand the role of Gorbachev and his perestroika. As early as 1986, the International Committee warned that Gorbachev was seeking the restoration of capitalism and, therefore, carrying out the final will and testament of Stalinism as a political system.

Allow me to make a few remarks about the recent events in the Soviet Union. The International Committee welcomed the collapse of the putsch. However, we also issued a warning that those who emerged in political ascendancy in the aftermath of this putsch represent a force no less reactionary than those who had sent the tanks into the streets. None of the groups contending for power represent the working class. In fact, the struggle between Yanayev-Pavlov on the one hand and Yeltsinite “democrats” on the other was largely a struggle over who would control the process of capitalist restoration.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the great writings of Marx on 1848, in which he explained the relationship between the petty-bourgeois democrats and the working class. Now that the “democrats” have achieved their objectives, they will have no compunction about turning savagely against the working class in the Soviet Union.

The International Committee calls on the working class to oppose the restoration of capitalism in the USSR. But we understand that to many Soviet workers there seems to be no other way out of the present crisis. And many intellectuals believe that there is no escape from the economic problems of the USSR except through the restoration of capitalism.

The problem is one of perspective. If one considers the problems of the Soviet Union simply within the Soviet framework, there seems to be no other answer. But if one examines the situation in the Soviet Union within an international context, the problems present themselves very differently and other possibilities emerge into view.

But an international approach to the Soviet crisis is not only alien to the Stalinists and democrats; it is completely incompatible with their reactionary aims. I will be blunt. The information which is now being put out by the Stalinists and democrats about the conditions in the capitalist world are out-and-out lies.

International capitalism is in a deep and profound crisis. Indeed, the crisis in the Soviet Union is itself profoundly related to the growing contradictions of the world capitalist system as a whole. The crisis in the Soviet Union is, in the final analysis, one part of the general breakdown of the post-World War II equilibrium. And this finds its expression not only in the events in Eastern Europe, but in the growing tensions among the major imperialist powers.

The crisis of Stalinism in the Soviet Union has perhaps overshadowed a development whose historical implications are far-reaching: the decline in the world position of American capitalism. The stability of post-World War II capitalism was largely based on the hegemonic role of the United States in world economic and political affairs. Now that hegemony has not only been lost, but the United States faces severe competition from Germany and Japan.

America’s response to this new situation is the most destabilizing element in world affairs today. Herein lies the significance of the war against Iraq. The principal purpose of that war was not to remove Saddam Hussein, who happened to be an old friend of the United States, but to strengthen the world position of American capitalism vis-a-vis its international rivals.

Why are the international events so significant? Because the basic question which faces the Soviet Union today is the same question which it faced in 1924. Should it seek to find the answer to its deep economic problems on the basis of a national program, or should it seek to find the answer to its problems on the basis of an international program? The nationalist solution proposed by Stalin and Bukharin in 1924, to build socialism in one country, based on the resources of Soviet Russia, had catastrophic consequences for the Soviet and international working class. Today, the national solution proposed by the Stalinists and democrats—based on the restoration of capitalism—can be achieved only through the transformation of the shattered fragments of the USSR into colonial outposts of imperialism. The vast majority of the Soviet people will be pauperized, while bourgeois comprador gangsters amass great wealth.

The internationalist revolutionary line proceeds from the essential truth that the interests of the Soviet masses can be defended only on the basis of a program that recognizes the link between the struggle against Stalinism and the world struggle against imperialism. Of course, this international line does not preclude making those short-term adjustments which are necessary in the interests of strengthening the Soviet economy.

But, in the long run, there are only two ways the Soviet Union can find access to the world market which it so desperately needs: either through capitalist restoration, which integrates the Soviet Union into the world capitalist market—leading rapidly to a catastrophic decline in the social and cultural level of the Soviet people—or through the program of world revolution, which is what the International Committee fights for.

I will now use the remaining time to answer questions.

Q: What is new in Trotskyist theory today since 1938? And why do you think it is superior to other forms of socialism?

DN: First, Trotskyism doesn’t claim to have invented a new Marxism. Its analytical tools are those of dialectical and historical materialism. It applies Marxism creatively to the analysis of existing reality. It has produced over the last decades an ongoing analysis not only of the crisis of world capitalism as a whole, but of the developments within the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

In a recent document which we have prepared for our international conference in Berlin against imperialism and colonialism, we give a summary of the world situation and the tasks which now confront the international working class. We stress that in no country can the working class find answers to its problems on the basis of a national reformist or national “socialist” program.

Everyone’s talking about the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the explanations which are provided are utterly superficial. Uncritically accepting the forged Marxist credentials of past Stalinist regimes, it is simply declared that the crisis of the USSR represents the failure of socialism. But no one has bothered to explain why labor movements led by political forces which explicitly repudiate Marxism are also confronting a desperate crisis. Sweden, as you know, only recently was being held up everywhere as a great alternative to the Soviet Union. But what has become of the social democratic government in Sweden? It has collapsed, having more or less repudiated its own time-honored reform program over the last 10 years. The British Labour Party, whose program appears on the surface to be diametrically opposed to that of the Stalinist government, has repudiated even the impotent Fabianism of its past and is indistinguishable from the Tory Party in Britain. And in the United States, there is no labor organization more diametrically opposed to socialism than the AFL-CIO bureaucracy of Lane Kirkland. It unashamedly proclaims its allegiance to capitalism. But its program has failed as ignominiously as that of the Stalinists. The American trade unions have virtually collapsed, and the living conditions of American workers have declined tremendously in the last 15 years.

So, we should ask ourselves, what do these apparently different labor organizations all have in common—the American labor organization, British organization, French, German, Swedish, Soviet? What common feature has led to their breakdown? It turns out that all of them are based on national reformist programs. And their parochial national reformism has no answer to a highly integrated, internationally organized world capitalism. The program of international socialism, of world revolution, of the international unity of the working class is the only realistic program.

Q: What is your opinion of Boris Yeltsin? What is your appraisal of Gorbachev? Are you familiar with the views of Alexander Yakovlev, who has repudiated the dictatorship of the proletariat? In that regard, I would like to know what are your views on the questions of class war and violent revolution? And finally, what kind of economic model do you propose for the Soviet Union, because you reject capitalism, and I assume that what you are suggesting that what needs to be set up in the Soviet Union is a section of the Fourth International.

DN: Exactly.

Q: So what kind of economic model are you proposing?

DN: First of all, Yeltsin can be very directly classified as a bourgeois politician. Yeltsin is the political leader of an emerging Russian bourgeoisie. Gorbachev is the leader of a restorationist bureaucracy. Both of them are working together to implement these restorationist policies and the only dispute between them is what percentage of the national wealth should go to the bureaucracy and what percentage should go to the emerging comprador bourgeoisie. I was in Moscow last week and the struggle between these two factions was being dominated over questions as to who was going to control and own what building.

As for Mr. Yakovlev, I’m not particularly impressed by this gentleman. He just gave an interview in an American newspaper in which he said that he’s been recently reading and restudying and he’s come to the conclusion that all the predictions of Marx and Engels have never been vindicated. Well, I’m very suspicious of what we call in America “deathbed conversions.” In other words, after 45 years in the Communist Party, he suddenly has discovered—as everything is collapsing all around him—that Marxism is wrong. But of course isn’t that a wonderful excuse? It relieves him of assuming any responsibility for the policies he himself implemented. And he, moreover, was the leader of a government which denied to the Soviet people the right to read the classics of Marxism.

Now, just the other points. We are for the dictatorship of the proletariat. We defend that concept, and we see that as the only historical alternative to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with which we in the United States are very familiar. Those of us who work in capitalist countries and try to conduct socialist political work in the workers movement come up against the reality of the capitalist state. As far as class war, until that time when the bourgeoisie is prepared to abandon class war, we believe that it would be wrong for us to turn our backs on that reality. In America class war is waged, but only by one side. Nevertheless, we don’t make a fetish of violence and we are not pro-violence in principle. If it were possible for the working class to come to power peacefully, we would certainly favor that. But, unfortunately, the experience of the twentieth century provides scant justification for such hopes. Salvador Allende was an advocate of the peaceful road to socialism; and you know where he ended. Ironically, those in the Soviet Union who are today denouncing the concept of class struggle are the same ones who are talking about the necessity of a Soviet Pinochet to establish order in this country.

Finally, as far as economic models, we don’t have any economic models. Marx himself rejected blueprints for the future reconstruction of society. Of course, we consider the nationalization of the basic means of production under workers control as the prerequisite for the socialist reorganization of society. But the nationalization of the means of production can lead to genuine socialist planning only if it is based on the actual conquest of state power by a mass workers party. The politically conscious action of millions of workers, not the “economic models” of bureaucrats and technocrats, provides the foundations for socialist planning and development. Socialism arises not out of plans imposed from above, but from the democratic reorganization of society by the working class, in the interests of the working class. Rather than imposing models from above, let’s hear what the politically conscious working class has to say and wants to have done.