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Introduction As the   culmination   of   an   inner-­party   discussion,   the   41st   Congress   of   the   Communist   Party   of   Britain   reconvened   in   November   1992   and   adopted   the   resolution   Assessing the Collapse of the Soviet Union. This   remains   the   basis   of   the   party's   view   of   what   went   wrong   in   the   Soviet   Union   -­   and   in   most   important   respects   the   other   socialist   societies   of   eastern   Europe   -­   and   why   the   attempts   to   renew   and   save   the   socialist   system   failed.   It   also   represents   a   qualitative   development   in   our   analysis   from   the   resolution   of   our   party's   Executive   Committee   in   May   1956,   following   revelations   at   the   20th   Congress   of   the   Communist   Party   of   the   Soviet   Union   about   the   Stalin   period,   and   the   article   and   pamphlet   by   former   General   Secretary   John   Gollan,   Socialist Democracy - Some Problems (1976);;   both   of   the se   documents   were   critical   of   important   aspects   of   the   Soviet   system,   and   self-­critical   of   our   own   party's  acquiescence.   Now   is   an   appropriate   time   to   reprint   this   Congress   resolution.   The  Soviet  Union  has  ceased  to  exist  as  such;;  it  has  broken  up   into   separate   republics,   a   process   characterised   by   ethnic   and   national   conflict,   war   and   discrimination.   Boris   Yeltsin's   drive   to   transform   Russia   into   a   privatised,   capitalist   'free   market'   economy   and   society   has   run   into   a   ditch;;   small   groups   of   millio naires   and   gangsters   control   whole   sectors   of   commerce   and   industry;;   millions   of   workers   are   unemployed   and   many   millions   more   receive   no   wages;;   the   state  is  tottering   on  the  edge  of   bankruptcy  despite  tens   of   billions   of   dollars   from   the   International   Monetary   Fund;;   the   rouble   has   lost   much   of   its   value   and   people's   savings   are   almost   worthless;;   homelessness,   begging   and   prostitution   are   rife.   The   advisors,   investors   and   speculators   from   the   capitalist   countries   have   made   a   killing   in   every   sense   of   the   wo rd.   Thirty   million   Russians   voted   Communist   in   the   1997   presidential   elections,   with   millions   of   others   turning   to   extreme   right-­wing   and   authoritarian   parties   out   of   desperation   ...   but   Yeltsin   has   shamelessly   used   the   power  of  the  state  and  Western  assistance  to  hang  on.   The   collapse   of   Communist   rule   in   the   Soviet   Union   and   eastern   Europe   also   set   off   a   new   wave   of   reaction   around   the   world.   Capitalism   proclaimed   its   eternal   victory   in   the   battle   of   ideas,   the   `end   of   history'   had   supposedly   arrived   and   a   'new   world   order'   established.   Supported   by   their   respective   states,   the   capitalist   monopolies  (notably  the  transnational  corporations  or  TNCs)   1  


reaped the   profit   from   sweeping   privatisation,   mass   redundancy,   cuts   in   social   and   welfare   programmes   and   other   attacks   on   working  class  rights  and  living  standards.   The   imperialist   countries   kept   their   nuclear   weapons,   pushed   NATO   eastwards   and   -­   led   by   the   US   -­   assumed   the   right   to   bomb   and   invade   any,   nation   that   stepped   out   of   line.   At   the   same   time,   rivalries   between   the   imperialist   powers   and   their   TNCs   have   intensified,   demonstrating   that   capitalism   remains   a   system   wracked  by  contrrdiction  and  crisis.   According   to   our   analysis   of   what   went   wrong   under   socialism,   the   young   Soviet   state   faced   two   enormous   and   fundamental   p r o b l e m s :   f i r s t l y ,   i t   h a d   t o   t r y   t o   b u i l d   s o c i a l i s m   i n   a n   underdeveloped,   semi-­capitalist   empire   which   still   suffered   many   of   the   legacies   of   feudalism;;   secondly,   it   had   to   attempt   this   task   whilst   surrounded   by   hostile   imperialist   powers.   Despite   all   the   efforts   of   Communists   and   progressives   in   the   advanced   capitalist   countries,   these   powers   inflicted   three   crippling   wars   on   the   Soviet   Union:   the   war   of   intervention   from   1918,   the   fascist   invasion   from   1941,  and  the  Cold  War  from  the  mid-­1940s.   But   we   do   not   accept   that   the   collapse   was   inevitable   due   to   the   conditions   in   which   the   1917   October   Socialist   Revolution   took   place   -­   that   'socialism   in   one   country'   was   impossible,   even   in   these   difficult   circumstances.   We   certainly   cannot   accept   that   building   socialism   was   impossible   in   the   new   situation   that   developed  in  eastern  Europe  and  China  after  1945.   Nor   do   we   subscribe   to   the   idea   that   the   US   Central   Intelligence   Agency   and   its   'front'   organisations,   in   alliance   with   reactionary   exiles   and   dissident   anti-­socialist   and   nationalist   elements,   brought   about   the   collapse.   Their   long-­running   efforts   may   have   made   things   worse,   and   perhaps   even   accelerated   the   final   crisis,   but   that   was   only   possible   because   the   foundations   and   structures   of   the   Soviet  system  were  already  crumbling.   Our   Congress   sought   to   identify   the   main   errors   and   mistakes   which   enabled   this   to   occur.   Some   points   were   elaborated   in   an   editorial   in   the   Communist   Party   of   Britain's   theor etical   and   discussion   journal,   the   Communist   Review   (No.   26,   Autumn/   Winter   1997).   For   example,   concerning   the   Soviet   Union's   economic   and   industrial   performance:   over   long   periods,   idealism   and   dedication,   the   impetus   of   war   and   reconstruction,   the   intrinsic   advantages   of   economic   planning   all   combined   to   produce   rates   of   economic   growth  up  to  twice  and  even  three  times  those  of  advanced   2  


capitalist countries.   But   from   the   late   1950s,  the  level  of  investment   growth   began   to   fall;;   economic   output   growth   rates   declined   dramatically   from   1960   as   the   technological   gap   between   the   Soviet   Union  and  the  developed  capitalist  economies  widened.   Fundamental   problems   of   how   to   secure   innovation,   to   apply   new   technology   across   a   wide   range   of   industries   and   services,   to   raise   labour   productivity   humanely   in   a   socialist   society   which   commits   itself  to  full  employment,  were  not  solved.   Quality   was   sacrificed   to   quantity,   inefficiencies   and   waste   were   overlooked,   mistakes   were   covered   up   and   records   falsified   as   fulfilment   of   the   plan   became   the   sole   measure   of   performance   for   each  enterprise  and  for  whole  Ministries.   The   imposition   from   above   of   'one-­man   management'   in   each   e n t e r p r i s e   n e g a t e d   a n y   n o t i o n   o f   w o r k e r s '   c o n t r o l   o r   self-­management.   Moreover,   we   have   to   continue   to   examine   a   number   of   pertinent   historical   questions   in   the   light   of   new   information:   did   the   industrial   `Great  Leap  Forward'  from  1928  take  place  because  of  -­  or  despite  -­   the   reign   of   mounting   conformity   and   coercion?   What   precisely   was   the   contribution   made   by   the   collectivisation   of   the   peasantry:   did   the   immediate   and   longer-­term   positive   effects   outweigh   the   immediate   and   longer-­term   negative   ones,   both   politically   and   economically?   There   were   also   serious   deficiencies   in   the   treatment   of   vital   democratic  questions.   For   instance,   the   national   question   was   not   solved   despite   announcements   to   the   contrary.   Lenin's   advice   to   compensate   the   small  nationalities  for  the  historical  injustices  suffered  at  the  hands  of   Great   Russian   chauvinism,   to   show   the   greatest   sensitivity   to   national   feelings,   was   not   heeded.   As   the   party   exercised   ever-­tighter   centralised   control   over   the   constituent   republics,   regions   and   areas,   Stalin's   Russian   Soviet   Federal   Socialist   Republic   (the   'autonomisation'   rejected   by   Lenin)   was   established   in   deeds   if   not   in   words.   The   democratic   rights   and   patriotic   feelings   of   many   nationalities   were   violated   by   forced   transfers   of   territory   and   population,   by   processes   of   `Russification'   inste ad   of   the   assimilation   of   migrant   workers   into   the   local   population   and   schools,   and   by   the   restoration   under   Stalin   of   some   of   the   symbols,  'heroes'  and  insignia  of  Imperial  Russia.   Soviet   laws   and   proclamations   concerning   the   equality   of   the   sexes  did  not  reflect  the  reality:  women   were  not  fully  liberated  from   t he  b u r d e n s  o f   un p l a n ne d  p r e g na nc y  o r  t he   d r ud g e r y  o f   3  


housework. They   worked   what   we   now   call   the   'double   shift'   -­outside  the  home  as  well  as  inside.  The  relatively  high  proportion   of   women   in   parliamentary   forums   did   not   progress   to   the   highest   levels;;   the   party   and   State   leadership   was   almost   entirely   male   right   to   the   end.   Professions   where   women   made   much   more   headway   than   in   capitalist   countries   -­   in   scientific   and   educational   work   for   example   -­   lost   some   of   their   status   and   income   differentials   as   a   consequence.   Therefore  a  potentially  dynamic  force  for  the  defence  of  socialism  -­   women  -­  was  never  fully  developed.   Nor   could   the   battle   of   ideas   have   been   waged   in   the   most   effective   way   in   each   generation.   With   the   working   class   excluded   from   a   genuine   mass   role   in   the   administration   of   industry   and   the   state,   with   neither   the   party   nor   the   trades   unions   winning   workers   to   Marxism   and   in   turn   being   enriched   by   their   experiences   and   class   alignment,   and   with   the   party   exercising   state   power   as   a   bureaucratic-­centralist   organisation,   Marxism-­Leninism   was   distorted   i nto   a   dogm a   a nd   adopte d   a s   a   st ate   religio n.   It   be ca me   associated   in   people's   minds   with   slogans,   formulations   and   devices  to  justify,  glorify  and  misrepresent  the  status  quo.  Instead  of   utilising   Marxism   in   order   to   understand   and   solve   the   problems   of   building   socialism,   with   all   the   clashes   of   viewpoint   that   characterise   genuinely   free   Marxist   debate,   theoreticians   and   political   leaders   proclaimed   the   achievement   of   'developed   socialism';;   indeed,   it   was   even   proclaimed   under   Brezhnev   that   the   Soviet   Union   had   entered   the   stage   of   'perfecting'   developed   socialism   as   the   immediate   preparation   for   the   transition   to   the   higher  stage  of  communism.   In   relation   to   the   serious   violations   of   socialist   democracy   during   the   Stalin   period,   there   was   some   debate   in   the   Communist   Party   of   Britain   as   to   whether   the   term   'crimes'   was   appropriate   in   the   Congress  resolution.  A   minority,  as  it  turned  out,  felt  that  it  was  too   strong   and   could   only   help   the   enemies   of   Communism.   However,   the   opening   up   of   CPSU,   Comintern   and   Soviet   state   archives   provides   an   uncontestable   mass   of   evidence   that   enormous   and   brutal   crimes   were   indeed   committed   by   the   party   and   state   leadership   in   the   1930s   and   1940s;;   that   Stalin   bore   a   heavy   and   direct   personal   responsibility   for   many   of   them;;   and   that   many   thousands   -­   hundreds   of   thousands   if   not   millions   -­   of   the   victims   were  loyal  Communists  and  Soviet  citizens.   Those   crimes   were   a   shameful   blot   on   the   proud   history   of   the   Communist  movement,  and  they  must  not  be  denied  or  covered  up  

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with the   excuse   that   great   economic   and   cultural   advances   were   also   made   during   the   Stalin   period.   Attempts   in   some   quarters   to   revive  the  Stalin  cult  will   not  raise  our  movement's  credibility  in  the   eyes   of   people   who   are   committed   to   democratic   and   human   rights   and  who  believe  in  honesty  and  truth.   To   frankly   identify   the   problems,   shortcomings   and   mistakes   of   socialism   as   it   actually   existed   is   not   to   belittle   the   great   historic   gains   of   the   socialist   experience.   We   certainly   did   not   do   so   in   the   past,  and  we  should  not  do  so  now.   As   our   41st   Congress   resolution   pointed   out,   large-­scale   industry   was   developed   which   -­   among   other   things   -­   laid   the   basis   for   the   defeat   of   fascism,   thereby   saving   the   whole   of   humanity   from   unprecedented   tyranny   and   genocide.   There   were   massive   advances   in   education   and   culture.   The   frontiers   of   science   were   extended   in   dramatic   fashion;;   sweeping   improvements   in   health,   housing   and   social   services   transformed   the   lives   of   hundreds   of   millions  of   people.   Women   threw   off   many   of  the  shackles   forged   by   feudal   and   religious   customs   and   beliefs.   Whole   peoples   acquired   a   written   culture   and   national   consciousness   as   the   Tsarist   `prison-­house   of   nations'   was   demolished.   Around   the   world,   peoples   struggling   for   national   liberation   and   against   imperialism   received  invaluable  assistance  from  the  Socialist  community.   Were   we   to   draw   up   a   balance   sheet,   the   positive   features   of   the   socialist   experience   would   far   outweigh   the   negative   ones.   But   we   must   learn   the   lessons   from   the   problems,   the   mistakes   and   the   reasons  for  the  downfall.   Communists   can   learn   from   going   back   to   Marxist-­Leninist   basics,   provided   we   do   so   in   a   Marxist -­Leninist   way:   critically   and   analytically.   In   particular,   the   last   writings   of   Leni n   o n   b urea ucrac y,   co-­operation   and   the   national   question   will   repay   study.   Much   of   what   Lenin   said   and   wrote   is   enormously   instructive   and   perceptive.   For   example,   he   urged   a   combination   of   boldness   and   careful   training   to   overcome   bureaucratic   inertia   -­   the   party's   Central   Committee   should   be   at   least   doubled   in   size   by   the   election   of   new   members   who   'must   be   people   closer   to   being   rank-­and-­file   workers   and   peasants';;   in   addition,   between   75   and   100   workers   and   peasants   should   be   elected   to   the   Central   Control   Commission,   and   given   sweeping   powers   to   check   the   work   of   party   and   state   officials  at  the  highest  level.   It   is   significant   that   Lenin's   solution   to   problems   of   bureaucratic   conservatism,  careerism  and  party  leadership  manoeuvring  began   5  


with a   turn   to   the   working   people   and   their   most   advanced   sections.   But   even   in   Lenin's   prescriptions,   might   there   not   also   have   been   the   seeds   of   future   mistakes?   For   instance,   when   he   proposed   the   merger   of   a   part   of   the   party's   apparatus   -­   the   Central   Control   Commission   -­.with   a   section   of   the   state   apparatus   (the   Workers'   and   Peasants'   Inspectorate),   was   he   departing   from   what   should   have   been   an   inviolable   principle   in   all   but   the   most   exceptional   c ir c um sta nce s,   na mely   t he   sep ar atio n   o f   pa rt y   a nd   state   machinery?   When   he   advocated   federalism   but   emphasised   the   role   tha t   'party   authority'   should   play   in   holding   the   Union   of   Soviet   Socialist   Republics   together   -­   should   he   not   have   foreseen   the   danger   of   a   form  of  Great  Russian  chauvinism  emerging  under  this  pretext?   These   questions   and   this   analysis   are   presented   in   a   spirit   of   Marxist-­Leninist   inquiry.   Having   defeated   revisionism   in   the   Communist   Party   in   Britain   in   the   recent   past,   we   stand   firm   in   our   commitment  to  socialist  revolution.   There   endures   an   international   Communist   movement   of   which   the   Communist   Party   of   Britain   is   proud   to   be   a   part:   we   have   comradely   relations   with   more   than   60   working   class   parties   and   national   liberation   movements   around   the   world,   including   the   Communist   Party   of   the   Russian   Federation.   We   each   have   our   own   ruling   class   to   overthrow   -­   but   we   are   aware   of   the   important   role   that   international   solidarity   plays   in   the   economic   and   political   class  struggle.   We   are   confident   that   the   Communist   and   workers'   parties   can   and  must  play  the  leading  role  in  making  the  21st  century  the  one   in   which   socialism   finally   triumphs   over   moribund,   corrupt,   anti-­human  and  anti-­planet  capitalism.  *   Robert  Griffiths   General  Secretary   Communist  Party  of  Britain   September  1998  

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Assessing the Collapse of the Soviet Union Resolution of  the  Reconvened  41st  Congress  of  the   Communist  Party  of  Britain,  November  1992   THE   COMMUNIST   PARTY   of   Britain   rejects   the   view   that   the   collapse   of   the   Soviet   Union   shows   that   socialism   itself   has   failed   and   is   no   longer   relevant   to   the   solution   of   the   many   problems   facing  the  people  of  the  world  today.   Although   recognising   the   failures   of   the   Communist   Party   of   the   Soviet   Union,   Communists   in   Britain   must   also   be   self-­critical.   They   failed   to   analyse   critically   developments   taking   place   in   the   Soviet   Union   since   the   October   Revolution,   and   the   analysis   in   this   resolution   is   therefore   an   essential   contribution   to   developing   the   struggle  for  socialism  in  Britain  itself.   The   root   cause   of   the   collapse   lay   in   the   particular   forms   of   economic   and   political   structure   which   developed   in   the   Soviet   Union.   Specifically,   the   great   mass   of   working   people   came   to   be   progressively   excluded   from   any   direct   control   over   their   economic   and   social   destiny.   This   erosion   of   the   very   essence   of   socialism   increasingly  affected  all  aspects  of  Soviet  society.   This   Soviet   system   was   gradually   elaborated   in   the   course   of   tackling   the   very   difficult   problems   of   building   socialism   in   a   backward   country,   surrounded   by   hostile   imperialist   forces,   which   on   two   occasions   led   to   the   Soviet   Union   being   plunged   into   devastating   wars   -­   the   war   of   intervention   immediately   following   the   revolution,   and   the   Second   World   War,   which   was   followed   by   the   defence  burden  of  the  Cold  War  period.   The   effects   of   encirclement   by   hostile   imperialist   forces   cannot   be   underestimated.   The   problems   this   caused   for   the   Soviet   Union   -­diplomatically,   militarily,   politically,   culturally,   and   above   all   economically   -­   were   immense.   The   'siege   mentality'   provoked   by   this   encirclement   was   a   powerful   factor   in   giving   rise   to   wrong   political  and  economic  policies.   Many  problems  could  have  been  overcome  had  the  Soviet  Union,  in   accordance   with   the   principles   of   Marxism-­Leninism,   freely   admitted   errors   and   shortcomings   and   at   all   stages,   when   difficulties   and   set-­backs   occurred,   consulted   with   the   Soviet   people   and  involved  them  in  working  out  solutions.   7  


It is   possible   that   the   collapse   of   the   Soviet   Union which   eventually   took   place   could   have   bee n   avoided   had   the   right   measures  been  taken  in time.  

Historical Roots of the Crisis CERTAINLY it   ca nnot   be   denied   that   a   latent   crisis   was   developing   before   1985.   Growth   rates,   while   still   remaining   positive,   fell   dramatically   from   1960   to   1980.   The   technological   gap   between  the  Soviet  Union  and  the  West  grew  enormously.   The   Soviet   Union   showed   itself   increasingly   unable   to   seize   the   opportunities   presented   by   the   scientific   and   technological   revolution,   particularly   in   the   crucial   sphere   of   information   technology.   From   the   late   1920s   onwards,   decisions   began   to   be   made   which   took   Soviet   society   down   a   road   leading   to   the   violation,   in   important   respects,   of   socialist   and   democratic   principles.   The   main  effects  of  this  can  be  summarised  as  follows:  

x

There was   an   excessive   centralisation   of   political   power,   which   in   effect   eroded   the   rights   of   the   elected   soviets.   This   was   accompanied  by  restrictions  on  democratic  rights.   There   was   state   repression   against   all   who   refused   to   conform.   Law-­breaking   became   endemic,   seen   particularly   in   widespread   corruption,   nepotism   and   the   b crimes   of   the   Stalin   period,  especially  during  the  purges.   *   Bureaucratic   commands   replaced   economic   levers   as   an   instrument   of   planning.   Everything   was   subordinated   to   this   highly   centralised   system   of   management,   stifling   individual   initiative.  

x

Industry and   commerce   were   nationalised   down   to   the   smallest   enterprise,   though   within   the   collective   farms   their   members   were   allocated   individual   plots   for   producing   vegetables,   fruit  and  milk  with  their  own  labour.   Inevitably   this   situation   gave   rise   to   an   extensive   shadow   economy,  including  a  black  market.  

x

The Communist   Party   of   the   Soviet   Union   was   integrated   into   the   state.   The   leading   role   of   the   Party   was   written   into   the   state   constitution   instead   of   being   won   in   the   course   of   mobilising   the   people   from   the   grass   roots   up.   The   Party's   policies   were  given  the  force  of  law  instead  of  having  to  be  fought  for  in   8  


Assessing the Collapse various forums  and  in  elections.   As   a   result,   working   class   control   and   rule   were   distorted   and   eventually   degenerated   into   the   dictatorship   of   the   Communist   Party.   In   essence   the   Communist   Party   became   the   command   centre  of  Soviet  society,  and  lost  its  ability  to  act  as  a  political  party.   This   was   accompanied   by   the   erosion   of   the   Party's   democratic   structures  and  their  replacement  by  bureaucratic  centralism.  

x The trade   unions   also   became   part   of   the   administrative   state   structure.   They   became   a   vehicle   for   transmitting  the   wishes  

of the   administrative   system   to   the   workers   rather   than   their   independent  voice  fighting  for  their  interests  against  all-­comers.   x In   the   course   of   all   this,   Marxism-­Leninism   was   reduced   to   a   dogma   justifying   the   status   quo.   Its   creative,   critical   function   which   is   so   vital   to   understanding   social   development   and   therefore   to   solving   the   problems   of   building   socialism,   was   effectively   removed.  It  ceased  to  act  as  a  science  and  became  a  dogma.   All   these   defects   within   the   Soviet   system,   taken   together,   meant   that   serious   obstacles   were   placed   in   the   way   of   developing   democracy  in  its  fullest  sense.   People   were   not   involved   in   decision-­making   at   every   level   in   the   way   they   should   have   been.   Important   decisions   were   frequently   taken  by  small  groups.   It   must   be   recognised   that   a   high   level   of   arms   was   needed   to   meet   the   threat   from   the   capitalist   powers,   which   was   not   sufficiently  countered  by  the  world  peace  movement.   The   arms   race   led   by   the   United   States   had   two   aims:   to   turn   back   socialism   by   the   threat   or   use   of   arms,   and   to   compel   the   S o vi e t   U ni o n   to   c ha nne l   m a s s i v e   re s o ur c e s   i nt o   i t s   a r ms   programme.   In   effect   this   diverted   resources   away   from   civilian   needs,   including   consumer   goods.   The   unfavourable   comparison   with   the   West   which   this   created   and   which   took   no   account   of   the   way   the   West   exploited   the   Third   World,   contributed   to   undermining   confidence  in  socialism  among  sections  of  the  Soviet  population.   In   total,   the   diversion   of   resources   into   arms   undermined   the   key   task   of   creating   a   modern   economy   on   which   the   defence   capability   of  any  state  must  ultimately  depend.   Furthermore,   it   created   within   the   command   system   a   very   powerful   network   of   bureaucratic   interest   groups,   straddling   industry,   the   scientific   community   and   the   military   establishment.   Clearly,  this  helped  to  strengthen  the  whole  bureaucratic   9  


administrative structure   on   which   the   Soviet   Union's   system   of   socialism  had  become  based.   Theoretically,   the   working   people   of   the   Soviet   -­Union   owned   everything.   But   in   fact   they   were   the   masters   of   very   little.   Society   was   actually   run   by   an   elite,   issuing   orders   from   the   top   down.   Inevitably,   working   people   became   passive.   All   that   was   required   of   them   was   to   implement   orders   handed   down   from   on   high.   Independent   thought   and   action   which   might   come   into   conflict   with   this   bureaucratic   hierarchy   was   unwelcome.   It   could   land   people   in   trouble.  Conformism  was  the  way  to  the  top.   Such   a  system,   which   placed   a  premium   on   the  safe,  conservative   approach,   ossified   socialist   society   and   emptied   it   of   its   dynamism.   The  failure  of  the   system   to   continue  to   meet  the  expectations  of   the  people,   the   stagnation   and   fall   in   living   standards  and  the  lack   of   any   effective   means   to   influence   events,   inevitably   led   to   people   looking  for  other  ways  to  solve  their  problems.   This   is   one   of   the   causes   of   the   growth   of   nationalism,   a   belief   in   many  of  the  republics  that  they  would  be  better  off  on  their  own.  It   has   fed   on   the   ethnic,   national   and   religious   feelings   which   have   always   existed   but   which   did   not   emerge   as   a   crucial   organised   force   so   long   as   Soviet   society   was   developing.   It   is   now   clear   that   the   strength   of   these   feelings   was   totally   underestimated   by   communists,   and   that   not   enough   was   done,   ideologically   and   politically,  to  accommodate  them  within  the  socialist  system.   The   ending   of   Tsarist   national   oppression,   and   the   great   advances   made  in   national  liberation   since  the  1917   revolution  is  being  played   down,   particularly   by   some   demagogues   who   now   use   the   genuine   national  and  ethnic  aspirations  that  exist  to  extend  their  power.   This   is   not   to   deny   what   was   achieved   in   the   Soviet   Union.   Large -­scale   industry   was   developed.   There   were   massive   advances   in   education,   and   a   cultural   revolution   which   changed   the   face   of   what   had   been   a   very   backward   country.   The   development   of   the   Soviet   Union's   scientific   potential   is   beyond   question.   In   health,   housing   and   social   services   big   steps   forward   were   recorded   The   Soviet   Union   made   a   tremendous   impact   on   the   movement   for   national   liberation   against   imperialism   in   the   world.   Its   role   in   supporting   the   anti-­colonial   movement   and   in   the   fight   for   peace   is   beyond  dispute.   But  the  fact  remains  that  the  defects  in  the  Soviet  system  sapped   socialism  of  its  strength  within  the  Soviet  Union.   10  


The Failure of Perestroika PERESTROIKA set out   to   break   out   of   this   impasse.   Its   approach   was   based   on   democratisation   and   the   combination   of   socialist   planning   with   market   mechanisms.   The   idea   was   to   release  the  initiative  of  the  people,  to  make  them  the  real  masters  of   society,  to  restore  dynamism  to  socialism.   But   reforming   socialism   when   it   had   become   as   ossified   as   in   the   Soviet  Union,  could  not  be  an  easy  task.   Management   cadres,   used   to   working   in   the   old   way   and   fearful   of   their   future   and   loss   of   privileges,   were   bound   to   be   resistant   to   change.   Yet   they   occupied   the   commanding   heights   of   the   economy,   the   state,   the   Party,   the   trade   unions,   all   aspects   of   society.   The   Party   and   the   trade   unions   were   also   instruments   of   the   command  system,  and  had  ossified  along  with  it.   Yet   any   reform   movement   would   need   these   as   instruments   of   change,   as   a   means   of   mobilising   the   working   people,   a   difficult   enough   task   in   itself   because   they   had   been   reduced   to   passivity   by  the  claustrophobic  conformism  of  the  command  system.   The   possibility   has   to   be   faced   that   the   model   of   socialism   in   the   Soviet   Union   may   have   passed   the   point   of   no   return.   Reform   may   have  been  impossible.   There   may   have   been   general   agreement  on   the   need   for   reform   a t   t h e   b e g i n n i n g ,   a n d   s o m e   i m p o r t a n t   s t e p s   t o w a r d s   democratisation   were   taken.   But   as   soon   as   the   reform   had   to   be   translated   into   concrete   measures   which   would   have   cut   deep   and   c halle nged   t he   nomenk latur a's pri vil ege s   a nd   po we r,   t he   conservatism  and  inertia  in  Soviet  society  reasserted  itself  as  it  did  in   previous  attempts  at  reform.   For   Perestroika was   not   the   first   attempt.   Khruschev   tried   to   introduce   reforms   in   the   late   1950s.   Kosygin   tried   again   in   1965,   with   a   reasonably   well-­worked   out   plan   of   reform   in   the   economic   field.   But   both   failed   in   the   face   of   the   conservatism   and   inertia   which   had  become  built-­in  features  of  Soviet  society.   The  contradiction  in  Soviet  society  between  its  authoritarian  form   and  its  socialist  content,  which  required  the  widest  expansion  of   democracy  into  all  spheres  of  social  life,  had  become  intractable.   Perestroika tried  to  deal  with  this  contradiction  on  a  broader  front  

11


than Khruschev   and   Kosygin.   But   the   problems   arising   from   it   were   too   many   and   too   deep.   This   is   the   basic   reason   for   the   failure   of   Perestroika.   -­   Without   the   fullest   co-­operation   of   the   leading   cadres   in   the   Party   and   in   the   management   of   the   state   and   the   economy   (i.e.   the   nomenklatura),   the   majority   of   whom   were   in   practice   resistant   to   change,   it   became   impossible   to   work   out   a   detailed   programme   for  reform,  let  alone  implement  reform  in  any  consistent  way.   As   a   result   a   confused   situation   developed,   characterised   by   prevarication,   abrupt   changes   of   policy,   and   the   taking   of   measures   w i t ho ut   a d e q u a t e   p r e p a r a t i o n   o r   c o n s i d e r a t i o n   fo r   t he i r   consequences.   Thus,   in   the   economy   Perestroika   disrupted   established   links,   but   failed   to   replace   them   by   new   one s   based   on   a   more   flexible   planning  system  and  the  use  of  market  mechanisms.   This  is   not   as  easy   a   thing   to   do   as   some  imagine.   It   cannot  be   done   overnight,   yet   it   is   extremely   difficult   to   have   a   transition   period   between   the   old   and   the   new,   with   el ements   of   both   co-­existing   and   in   constant   contradiction,   the   one   weakening   the   effectiveness  of  the  other.   In   the   political   sphere   the   old   party-­state   structures   were   broken   down,   but   there   were   no   properly   functioning   political   organisations,   including   the   Party   itself,   with   their   own   democratically-­decided   policies,  with  which  to  replace  them.   The   position   was   further   aggravated   by   the   way   in   which   the   dogmatisation   of   Marxism-­Leninism   had   stunted   the   development   of   political   understanding   and   creative   socialist   thought   at   all   levels   in   the   Soviet   Union,   leaving   the   door   wide   open   to   false   ideas   about   the   supposed   advantages   of   private   ownership   and   the   so-­called   'free'  market.   The   capitalist   option,   which   this   presupposed,   was   eventually   embraced   by   key   elements   of   the   nomenklatura   who   saw   it   as   protecting   their   privileged   position   -­   which   any   process   of   reform   within  a  socialist  context  would  be  bound  to  threaten.   Without   a   mass   political   movement   based   on   the   working   people   and   led   by   a   Communist   Party   armed   with   a   clear   perspective   for   reform,   neither   of   which   existed   nor   could   so   because   of   the   ossification   of   the   Party   and   the   trade   unions,   the   pressure   for   this   capitalist   development   became   irresistible   and   descent   into   chaos   became  almost  inevitable.   In   the   absence   of   this   mass   popular   movement   and   of   a   united   Party  committed  to  reform,  Gorbachev  became  involved  in   12  


Assessing the Collapse manoeuvring between  different  sections  of  the  elite,  seeking  to  find  a   consensus  for  a  programme  of  reform.   This   involved   making   compromises   which   increasingly   moved   in   the   direction   of   accepting   privatisation,   and   although   these   compromises  were  never  implemented,  they  played  into  the  hands  of   the  growing  numbers  within  the   nomenklatura who  were  opting   for   a  capitalist  solution.   In   this   latter   phase,   Gorbachev   himself   moved   increasingly   towards   accepting   privatisation   and   aspects   of   the   so-­called   'free'   market   philosophy,   though   he   favoured   the   longer   time-­scale   in   achieving  any  change  in  that  direction.   His   total   commitment   to   the   preservation   of   the   Union,   combined   with   an   underestimation   of   nationalist   feelings   in   the   republics,   meant   that   he   did   not   act   quickly   enough   in   working   out   a   new   federative   structure   acceptable   to   the   republics   and   capable   of   defusing  the  ethnic  conflicts  which  were  already  taking  place.   As   the   situation   developed,   many   within   the   nomenklatura, who   were   by   now   opting   for   a   capitalist   development,   combined   this   with   playing   the   nationalist   card,   adding   to   the   difficulties   of   working   out  a  new  federative  structure.   The   undemocratic   and   adventurist   coup   [of   August   1991],   about   which   the   full   circumstances   are   as   yet   unclear,   was   the   final   debacle.   But   it   is   important   to   notice   that   the   coup   leaders   -­   all   nomenklatura members   and   former   allies   of   Gorbachev   -­   were   also   in   favour   of   extensive   privatisation.   Their   main   concern   was   the   preservation  of  the  Union.   The   failed   coup   helped   the   'reformers'   to   speed   up   the   process   of   disintegration,   and   Gorbachev's   resignation   from   the   CPSU,   together  with  his  subsequent  part  in  the  banning  of  the  Party,  was  an   act  of  betrayal.   The   processes   leading   to   the   collapse   of   the   Soviet   Union   also   operated   within  the   other  socialist   regimes  in  Europe  aligned  with  it,   and   led   to   their   disintegration.   There   are   a   number   of   reasons   for   this.   These   countries   arose   in   special   circumstances   out   of   the   ashes   of   the   Second   World   War.   They   were   liberated   by   the   Red   Army   and   in   most   cases   were   not   based   on   strong,   organised   and   experienced   working   class   movements.   the   Communist   Parties   in   these   countries   were   mostly   inexperienced.   Inevitably,   they   were   very   dependent   on   the   Soviet   Union   for   aid   in   building   the ir   devastated  economies,  and  their  organisation  and  control  were   13  


patterned on  the  Soviet  model.  Their  economies  became  tied,  to  a  '   greater  or  lesser  extent,  to  the  Soviet  Union,  and  suffered  from  the   same  type  of  weakness  that  led  to  the  Soviet  crisis.   Of   crucial   importance   was   the   fact   that   the   Communist   Parties   in   these  countries  also  modelled  themselves  on  the  Soviet  Communist   Party.   There   was   the   same   integration   of   the   Party   with   the   state,   the  growth  of  the  ruling  bureaucracy,  the  alienation  of  the  Party  and   the   state   from   the   working   class,   and   democratic   rights   were   severely  limited.  There  was  the  additional  problem  that,  given  their   geographical   position,   the   Western   capitalist   powers   could   more   easily   influence   events   taking   place   within   them.   The   consequence   of   all   this   was   that   as   the   crisis   developed   in   the   Soviet   Union,   it   began   to   trigger   off   similar   developments   in   the   other   European   socialist  countries.   While   the   present   situation   is   unresolved,   the   dominant   political   trend   in   Eastern   Europe   is   toward   the   restoration   of   capitalism   and   the  destruction  of  the  many  positive  gains  of  socialism.  However,   the   success   of   this   counter-­revolutionary   process   is   by   no   means   inevitable.  While  the   anti-­socialist  forces  are  seeking  to  obliterate   all   vestiges   of   social   ownership,   they   have   not   as   yet   succeeded   in   creating  relatively  stable  capitalist  economies.   The   emergence   of   mass   unemployment,   price   rises,   and   attacks   on   welfare   and   pension   rights   have   created   enormous   social   tensions  in  the  former  Soviet  Union  and  elsewhere.   The   anti-­communist   decrees   and   the   commandeering   of   former   CPSU   property   make   an   effective   fight-­back   by   pro-­socialist   forces   in   the   former   Soviet   Union   very   difficult,   and   this   problem   is   aggravated   by   political   and   ideological   differences   within   the   left-­wing  opposition  itself.   There   is   great   need   for   communists   and   other   progressives   in   Britain   to   show  their   solidarity   with   trade   unionists  and  socialists  in   the   former   USSR,   and   for   channels   to   opened   up   which   would   enable   discussions   to   take   place   with   them   and   to   exchange   information.  

Learning the Lessons THE LESSON   to   be   learned   from   the   history   of   Soviet   society   since   the   mid-­1920s   onward   is   that   socialism   and   democracy   are   inseparable.   Democracy   is   not   an   added   extra,   but   is   integral   to   socialism.   14  


Assessing the Collapse Socialism is   about   raising   living   standards.   But   it   is   about   more   than   that.   It   is   about   gaining   for   working   people   control   of   their   own   destiny.   It   is   about   overcoming   alienation.   It   is   inseparable   from   the   fight   for   democracy.   Indeed,   without   these   there   can   be   no  sustained  rise  in  living  standards.   it   has  to  be   recognised   that   because   they  saw  the   way  in   which   the   imperialists   were   seeking   to   undermine   and   isolate   the   Soviet   Union   over   many   decades,   communists   carried   their   support   of   the   USSR   to   the   point   where   they   defended   many   aspects   of   Soviet   life   and  policy  which,  with  hindsight,  were  indefensible.   The   British   Road   to   Socialism   [the   programme   of   the   Communist   Party   of   Britain]   conceives   a   socialist   economy   as   one   in   which   the   commanding   heights   of   the   economy   are   in   public   ownership.   A   capitalist   economy,   even   with   some   nationalisation   as   in   Britain,   and   controlled   by   economic   levers   in   the   interests   of   the   capitalist   transnationals,   has   patently   failed   to   deal   with   unemployment   and   social  welfare.   These   are   the   concepts   of   socialism   espoused   by   The   British   Road   to   Socialism.   It   stands   for   the   fullest   respect   for   all   human   rights  and  freedoms.   The   fight   for   socialism,   which   it   envisages,   involves   the   intimate   interplay   between   the   struggle   in   Parliament   and   the   mobilisation   of   the   people   outside   through   their   political   parties,   trade   unions   and   other   democratic   organisations.   It   means   encouraging   working   people   to   participate   fully   in   decision-­making   at   every   level,   from   the  workplace  to  the  locality,  to  the  national,  to  the  international.   The   fight   for   socialism   is   a   long-­term   complex   struggle   to   extend   democracy   to   every   sphere   of   political,   economic   and   social   life,   including   the   state   itself   which   has   to   become   more   responsive   to   the  people's  demands,  open  and  fully  accountable  to  them.   This  cannot  be  achieved  except  through  policies  which  tackle  the   domination  of  our  society  by  the  giant  capitalist  transnationals.   These  oligarchic  organisations  stand  in  opposition  to  the   democratic  participation  of  the  people  and  popular  control.  They   exist  to  make  profit  and  build  up  their  own  positions  of  power.   They  are  the  backbone  of  the  present  capitalist  system  which  has   failed  to  satisfy  the  needs  of  the  peoples  of  the  world.   Some  Communist  Parties  may  have  failed  socialism.   Capitalism  has  failed  humanity.  *   15  


years of the

Communist Manifesto p&p CPB 3Ardleigh Road London 4HS150

Profile for Communist Party of Britain - South Devon

Assessing the Collapse of the Soviet Union  

41st Congress resolution of the CPB, with an Introduction by Robert Griffiths. Published by the CPB

Assessing the Collapse of the Soviet Union  

41st Congress resolution of the CPB, with an Introduction by Robert Griffiths. Published by the CPB

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