From Socialist Worker Review, No.111, July/August 1988, pp.9-20.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
THE USSR’s party conference was taking place just as Socialist Worker Review was going to press, and so it is impossible for us to comment on the detail of what happened.
But what became dear in the run up to the conference was that the USSR is facing its greatest political and social crisis since the early 1950s and, probably, since Stalin consolidated his power in 1928.
For the first two years of Gorbachev’s leadership perestroika slowly gathered pace and talk of glasnost seemed mainly cosmetic. Then last year increasing divisions emerged within the Russian leadership on the way forward, with Ligachev identified with one trend and Gorbachev’s supporters with the other. Things erupted last October when Boris Yeltsin denounced Ligachev at a meeting of the Central Committee – and was promptly sacked. They came to a head again in March when Ligachev’s supporters published a long article, disguised as a letter from a Leningrad chemistry lecturer, in the paper Sovietskaya Russiya, calling for an end to the criticisms of the old methods.
For three weeks reforming intellectuals believed the battle was lost and not one criticism of the letter appeared. Then, in a counter-move, Gorbachev’s supporters published an authoritative denunciation of it in Pravda – and gave the go-ahead for the media to publish more stringent criticisms than ever before of the things defended by the Ligachevites.
For the last two months it has been possible to read things in the Russian press that only dissidents used to say – detailed accounts of Stalin’s purges, attacks on the Stalin-Hitler pact and his running of the Second World War, a recognition that party leaders have habitually rigged elections, accounts of bad housing conditions, details about the scale of the economic crisis, revelations about corruption in the police.
At the same time, there has been the emergence of open dissent outside the confines of the ruling party, ranging from demonstrations several hundred strong in Moscow and Leningrad to the huge demonstrations and mass strikes in Armenia and the Karabakh region.
The ferment in Russia raises all sorts of important political questions: Is political revolution from above possible? What should the attitude of socialists be to perestroika and glasnost? Can perestroika solve the economic problems? Can the regime go back to the old methods of running things?
What is the significance of the national movements among the USSR’s non-Russian minorities? Does the answer lie in the use of the market, as in Hungary and Yugoslavia?
Chris Harman, Simon Terry and Andy Zebrowski look at these questions.
Last updated on 15 April 2010