Chris Harman & Andy Zebrowski

Glasnost – before the storm

(Summer 1988)

From International Socialism 2 : 39, Summer 1988, pp. 3–54.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The USSR is facing the biggest crisis for sixty years – since Stalin consolidated his rule and set out to ‘catch up’ with advanced capitalist countries through forced industrialisation. The scale of the social and political crisis confronting Gorbachev was brought home dramatically in February with the strikes in Armenia and the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. What began three years ago as a campaign by a section of the leadership to rationalise Russian industry – to implement ‘restructuring’ (perestroika) – suddenly turned into a massive explosion of anger in a city of a million people. The regime seems to have regained control of the situation in Armenia. But the disturbances there will not be the last intrusion of the mass of the population into political life.

Origins of the crisis

Leonid Brezhnev ruled Russia from 1964 to 1982. Those years are now officially designated ‘the period of stagnation’ in the USSR. The succession of economic reforms attempted in the late 1950s and early 1960s were forgotten as Khrushchev was denounced for his ‘hare-brained schemes’. A new series of reforms by Brezhnev’s first prime minister, Kosygin, were allowed to peter out. Under Stalin the ruling bureaucracy itself had been subject to repeated and bloody purges. Khrushchev had ended the bureaucratic bloodletting, but had continued with periodic shakeups of the hierarchy: resentment at these was a powerful factor contributing to his downfall. Brezhnev’s standing, by contrast, was built by placating all those who had helped him oust Khrushchev. That meant leaving bureaucrats in their place, regardless of how well or how badly they did their jobs. And so the Brezhnev period was one of inertia, in which only death removed most top bureaucrats from their positions.

When Stalin died in 1953 the average age of the politburo members was 55 and of the Central Committee secretaries 52; by the time of Brezhnev’s death the averages had risen to 70 and 67. The Russian leadership now says of those years:

Both at the centre and in the localities many leaders continued to act by outdated methods and proved unprepared for work in the new conditions. Discipline and order deteriorated to an intolerable level. There was failure in exactingness and responsibility. The vicious practice of downward revision of plans became widespread. [1]

In the Stalin and Khrushchev eras bureaucrats at all levels could have a certain sense of pride in their achievements. They might have lived in fear of Stalin and have resented Khrushchev’s chopping and changing of policies, but at least they saw the economy grow, and, with it, their individual prestige. They could believe in the ‘relentless advance of communism’ – not in the sense of the liberation of the working class preached by Marx and Lenin, but of the growth of Russian state capitalist power.

Under Brezhnev, pride gave way to cynicism, and cynicism easily spilled over into downright corruption. The present leadership now says that ‘bureaucratism, lack of control, corruption, bribery and petty bourgeois degeneration flourished, lavishly’. [2] At the top Brezhnev’s own family are now said to have been implicated in this: his daughter was suspected of involvement in a scandal involving stolen diamonds, and his brother-in-law, the deputy head of the KGB, in covering up for her. [3] A little further down the bureaucratic hierarchy, the national leadership of a number of republics seem to have built a base for themselves by allowing corrupt practices to flourish: accusations have been thrown at the Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgian and Armenian leaderships since Brezhnev’s death.

The cynicism of the bureaucracy was clearly matched by mass alienation at the base. Drunkenness rose to record heights. The quality of the output of factories did not improve. Productivity in industry remained at 55 per cent of the US level [4] and rose only slightly more quickly than wages. [5] Indeed, the present criticism of the Brezhnev period is so great that, if taken literally, it is difficult to see how the regime survived for 18 years! So, for instance, the Economist claims that ‘Russia has been a no-growth economy for as long as 20years.’ [6]

In fact, if the growth rate in the Brezhnev era was considerably lower than it had been in Stalin’s time, it was still slightly faster than that of most Western states (slower than that of Japan, but faster than that of Britain, which has shown no net growth in manufacturing output for 15 years!). American CIA estimates suggest that the growth rate averaged 5 per cent a year in Khrushchev’s last five years and 5.2 per cent in Brezhnev’s first five years. [7] Certainly, individual sectors of the economy did experience very real growth. The average grain harvest in the Khrushchev years was 124.4 million tonnes, it was 176.7 million tonnes in Brezhnev’s first decade in office. [8] In 1965 only 24 per cent of Soviet families had a TV set, 59 per cent a radio, 11 per cent a fridge, and 21 per cent a washing machine; by 1984 the figures had risen to 85 per cent, 96 per cent, 91 per cent and 70 per cent. [9]

It was precisely because the economic condition of the country did seem to improve, despite the drift to bureaucratic conservatism, that the problems that had led Khrushchev into his ‘hare-brained schemes’ could be ignored. The amount of new industrial output generated by each rouble of investment might have fallen by a third between the early 1950s and the late 1960s [10], but it was still possible to compensate for this by raising the proportion of the national income going to accumulation – so that the proportion of ‘producer goods’ in total output rose from,70 per cent in 1950-55 to 75 per cent in the early 1970s. [11] And ‘detente’ made it easier for the regime to ignore the gap that still existed between their economy and their main military competitor, the US.

But then in the late 1970s the underlying problems began to reassert themselves with a vengeance. The rate of economic growth began to decline precipitately. The 1976-80 plan set the lowest growth targets since the 1920s – and was still not fulfilled. The annual growth rate fell to 2.7 per cent. [12] Particular industries were hit very hard: electricity and oil output was growing in 1980 at only about two thirds of the rate of five years earlier. And coal, steel and metal cutting machine tools output actually fell a little. [13] Even worse, the relatively good harvest of 1978 was followed by the poor harvests of 1979 and 1980 and a disastrous one in 1981.

Now the Russian leadership claim:

The unfavourable tendencies that surfaced in economic development in the 1970s grew sharper in the early 1980s rather than relaxing. The slow down in growth rates continued during the first two years. The quality indicators of economic management deteriorated, in 1982 the increment rate of industry was 33.4 per cent below the average of the period of the past five year plan. [14]

Gorbachev’s economic advisor, Aganbegyan, writes:

In the period 1981-85 there was practically no economic growth. Unprecedented stagnation and crisis occurred during the period 1979-82, when production of 40 per cent of all industrial goods actually fell. [15]

The reaction of the Brezhnev generation of ageing bureaucrats was to try and evade all the problems the economic downturn posed. They tried to continue in the old ways and to use their political influence to protect their own little influence. Yet two sets of events brought home to some leading figures the dangers of doing nothing. The first was the initiation by Carter, and then even more so Reagan, of a new period of cold war. The second was the sudden upsurge of spontaneous workers’ rebellion which gave birth to Solidarnosc in Poland: doing nothing, it showed, could lead to the destruction of the regime from below.

Yuri Andropov took over the leadership on Brezhnev’s death. As head of the KGB he might have been expected to be conservative in his approach. But in a totalitarian state it is often the secret police who are most in contact with the real mood of the mass of the people. They have a network of informers who will report what their neighbours are really saying, while members of the regime’s party tend to report only what those above them want to hear. And so Andropov was aware of the cynicism, the corruption and depth of popular alienation. He had also been Russian ambassador in Hungary in 1956 and had learnt how rapidly such ingredients could ignite into popular insurgency – a lesson reinforced by Poland in 1980. He set out on the path of reform to reduce such dangers to bureaucratic rule.

He only lived another 14 months, and afterwards the conservative Brezhnevite forces were still strong enough to ensure that one of them, the ageing Chernenko, took over. But Andropov had still managed to make some shift in the balance of power; when Chernenko himself died after 13 months in power, Mikhail Gorbachev was appointed general secretary.

In the interim economic stagnation had continued: output of a whole range of goods from steel to fertilisers was lower than a year before. The new leadership could hardly avoid a desperate search for some solution to – as it now describes it – ‘the dramatic nature of the situation in which the country found itself in April 1985, a situation which today we rightfully describe as pre-crisis’. [16]

The dynamic of the system

To understand why economic crisis – and with it the need for drastic restructuring – emerged so suddenly, it is necessary to grasp the real dynamic of the Russian economy under Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev.

Two kinds of mistakes are common on the left concerning the USSR. The first stems from the influence of Stalinism internationally. It sees the USSR and similar societies as fundamentally different

to Western capitalism, as essentially socialist and therefore superior to the West. The leaders of the USSR are seen in some way as our comrades, even if errant ones. It has also held that the Soviet economy is, because of ‘planning’, immune to the elements of crisis which plague the West. As Ernest Mandel put it in a typical formulation:

The Soviet Union maintains a more or less even rhythm of economic growth, plan after plan, decade after decade, without the progress of the past weighing on the possibilities of the future ... All the laws of development of the capitalist economy which provoke a slowdown in the speed of economic growth are eliminated ... [17]

Such views have been, of course, quite incapable of foreseeing or explaining the sort of crisis which Russia is in today.

The second view is a mistaken reaction to the first. It sees the Russian system as being inferior to Western capitalism. The USSR is seen to be a society in permanent crisis, where production is inherently more wasteful than in the West. This view can easily slide into the idea that socialists should support the Western ruling classes against Russia, albeit ‘critically’. It fits in nicely to the current mania for seeing the market as a solution to all problems.

But it is wrong to say that the USSR is intrinsically inferior. In 1928, when Stalin finally consolidated his power, the USSR was lagging far behind countries like Britain and Germany, let alone the US, in its level of economic development. It was still an overwhelmingly backward agricultural country, with enclaves in large-scale industry in a few cities. Between 1929 and the end of World War Two it became the world’s second most powerful state militarily and economically. By somewhere around 1970 it had caught up with the Americans and there was parity in nuclear weapons. If the first view cannot explain the crisis in Russia, the second view cannot explain why it has taken so long to develop and why, in the interim, the USSR has been transformed from a backward agricultural state to an advanced industrial one.

The analysis with which this journal has always been associated sees the elements of crisis in the Russian economy as a product precisely of the dynamism which that economy displayed under Stalin and even under Khrushchev.

The Russian bureaucracy responded to the threat from Western imperialism in 1927 and 1928 by embarking on a path which led to the attempt to industrialise the country through the most vicious exploitation of the mass of peasants and workers. By driving peasants from the land into ‘collectives’ the bureaucracy obtained both the surplus labour and state control of the rather meagre food supplies needed to build up urban industry. By reducing workers’ livings standards by 30 or 40 per cent they obtained a rate of exploitation in this new industry sufficient to continue that expansion.

Such forced industrialisation necessarily involved a massive waste of resources and labour. But this hardly mattered to the bureaucracy so long as these were plentiful. It could reason that these were resources which otherwise would not have been used for building up industry and so, from its point of view, would have been completely wasted. The drive to accumulate overrode all other considerations and any close control on production costs was regarded as a minor consideration so long as it was possible to hammer down workers’ and peasants’ living standards and obtain a massive surplus product. Indeed, in the conditions under which the industrialisation drive began, any attempt to provide an honest appraisal of its costs was ruled out by social and political factors. As a recent, very interesting account of Stalin’s consolidation of power in 1927–8 tells:

In a situation of very severe social and economic crisis, which has already brought unbelievable deprivation to broad layers of the population, his programme inevitably showed a total disregard for the human factor and human needs; it did not hesitate to accept any moral, material or human loss regardless of its extent ...

Given the real situation in Soviet society it was impossible to justify let alone defend Stalin’s political decisions. A discussion of maintaining high rates of industrialisation would have been impossible if the real state of society were openly acknowledged; it would have been necessary to talk about something the Stalinists preferred to pass over in silence – the cost of the Stalinist course. Such a discussion would have been extremely compromising. Therefore Stalin and his supporters not only hushed up and distorted important facts of economic and social life ... but constructed an arbitrary picture of society as a whole. The discrepancy between economic plans and the material prerequisite for these plans became one of the most characteristic traits of Stalinist policy. [18]

There were not enough resources to guarantee the proposed rate of industrial growth. The planning agencies therefore decided ... to balance the plan by means of resources the economy did not yet have at its disposal ... The implications of such planning were clear. The fulfilment of the plan depended on a very brutal attack on the living and working conditions of industrial workers and the rural population ... This was a plan of organised poverty and famine ... [19]

The result was necessarily a vicious circle of waste and inefficiency. As Tony Cliff described it in the 1963 edition of his book on state capitalism in Russia [20]:

If by the term ‘planned economy’ we understand an economy in which all component elements are adjusted and regulated into a single rhythm, in which frictions are at a minimum and above all, in which foresight prevails in the making of economic decisions, then the Russian economy is anything but planned. Instead of a real plan, strict methods of government dictation are evolved for filling the gaps made in the economy by the decisions of this very government. Therefore instead of speaking of a Soviet planned economy, it would be much more exact to speak of a bureaucratically directed economy ...

He described the vicious circle that operated. Planners set targets higher than could easily be achieved. In order to protect themselves from these pressures, managers hoarded materials and supplies of labour. And in order to protect themselves from suddenly increased pressures from management, workers worked as unproductively as possible. Awareness that this was happening throughout the economy in turn led planners to impose deliberately high targets, and the party bureaucracy to use every means at its disposal to get managers and workers to try and meet them:

All these requirements necessitate a multiplicity of control systems, which are in themselves wasteful and in their lack of systematisation and harmony make for even more wastage. Hence the need for more controls, for paper pyramids, and a plethora of controls.

One purpose of the massive terror of Stalin’s time, with its thousands of executions and millions of slave labourers, was to intimidate the mass of the population into trying to fulfil such unfulfillable targets. Under Khrushchev and Brezhnev such outright terror was eliminated and other administrative mechanisms took its place. But neither sort of mechanism could eliminate the waste. Indeed centralised bureaucratic control intensified the very waste it was meant to stop as people systematically lied to those above them in order to protect themselves. The planners ended up with no real understanding of what the costs of production of particular goods were and set prices which had little relation to these. This in turn made it impossible for the planners to set rational plan targets.

Yet the system was not completely irrational. It succeeded, as no other method of economic organisation could have in the concrete circumstances of Russia at the time, in enabling the bureaucracy to increase massively the amount of industry at its disposal. As Cliff put it in 1963:

One should avoid the mistake of assuming that the mismanagement corroding Russia’s national economy precludes very substantial, nay, stupendous achievements. Actually between bureaucratic mismanagement and the upward sweep of Russia’s industry there is a tight dialectical unity. Only the backwardness of the productive forces of the country, the great drive to wards rapid expansion, and above all the subordination of consumption to accumulation can explain the rise of bureaucratic state capitalism ... However, state capitalism is becoming an increasing impediment to the development of the most important productive force – the workers themselves – which only a harmonious socialist society can liberate.

The tendency to aim at excessively high plan targets was not an irrational product of the bureaucratic mind. Rather it corresponded with the very real needs of those who ran the Russian economy once they had adopted the policy of ‘socialism in one country’ and abandoned the perspective of overcoming the country’s international isolation by the spread of the revolution. They really did need to catch up with more advanced powers in military terms – and that meant building up heavy industry regardless of the cost. The excessive rates of accumulation they adopted were an internal reflection of the pressures of the world capitalist system outside the country. But once the Russian bureaucracy embarked on this process of competitive accumulation, it became a part of the world system, an element in that system which in turn helped impose competitive accumulation on others. And the drive to competitive accumulation shaped the whole internal structure of Russian society, forcing the bureaucracy to cut itself off from the other classes in Russian society by a river of blood and to base its own psychology on their exploitation.

The attempt by one element in the world system to ‘catch up with’ and out-compete all the other elements is a labour of Sisyphus. Any success only prompts the rivals to increased efforts themselves, so any gains are only temporary. So it is that 60 years after Stalin set out on the path of state capitalism in order to match the military strength of the then-great powers, the military strain on the Russian economy continues. The two greatest military powers, the United States and Russia, are in direct competition with each other. Russia has an economy about half the size of the United States, yet has to try to match the United States militarily. If the contribution of the United States NATO partners is compared to that of Russia’s Warsaw Pact allies then the burden becomes greater. One source estimates that if it is assumed that the US and Russia have around 50 per cent of world arms expenditure between them then the NATO countries add 17 per cent and the Warsaw Pact states, only 4 per cent to the armouries of their respective superpowers.

In other words Russia needs to act almost like a wartime economy if it wants to maintain or improve its position in the world capitalist pecking order of states (and it does). On the other hand, the United States has a population which has attained higher consumption levels than Russia and its tasks are greater because it polices more of the world.

It is impossible to get an accurate assessment of Russian arms production since it is a closely guarded secret. Estimates from the CIA are unreliable for obvious reasons. The CIA has itself admitted to getting the figures badly wrong. And SIPRI (the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which publishes annual statistics for each country’s arms expenditure) has this year refused to estimate Russian arms production because the figures are so unreliable. Generally it is estimated at somewhere around 14 per cent of net material product.

If we look at how the Western economies behaved during the First and Second World Wars we see enormous similarities with the Russian economy since the first five year plan of 1929. For example, a recent study of French capitalism in the 1914–18 period [21], gives the following description:

The French government became the sole importer and distributor of raw materials to industry. Eventually the government created consortia to supply the raw materials which industry required, and these bodies, closely supervised by the Ministry of Commerce, monopolised transport, arranged foreign payment, requisitioned supplies, determined industrial priorities, fixed prices and limited profits. This policy was imposed in part by Great Britain, which felt that ... it was reasonable to insist that French businessmen be subject to the same kind of bureaucratic control as their British counterparts.

In the Second World War the pattern was intensified. It is important to stress that these measures were taken when capitalism was at its highest pitch of competition, when, as Lenin put it [22], ‘peaceful competition’ for markets gave way to war. It is strange, therefore, to read ideologues of the left and right who insist that the command economy is what fundamentally distinguishes the ‘socialist’ societies from capitalist societies.

The problem for an economy where the resources are thrown into military competition is that eventually it risks falling behind its rivals because the investments made don’t modernise the non-military sector. The arms burden explains why Russia did not ‘do a Japan’ and outsell its rivals. But eventually it is not only civilian industry which is weakened in this way, but also the military capability itself. The threat to Russia’s military standing explains some of the urgency behind Gorbachev’s perestroika.


Pressure to restructure is not something peculiar to Russia. It afflicts capitalist companies in the West repeatedly. They establish successful patterns of accumulation and competition, and these become embodied in their internal organisation. They have certain structures of capital investment and, associated with them, particular managerial hierarchies. These patterns in turn influence the ways in which they deal with the threat of unrest from their workforces – whether these are based on crude repression, forms of anti-union paternalism, or collaboration with full-time trade union bureaucracies. The nexus of relationships thus established comes to influence the functioning of the company itself, even when the external conditions that led to a certain model of accumulation in the first place change.

As capitalism ages it becomes more concentrated (the units are bigger) and more centralised (the units are fewer). Technological changes are part of this process. Just to give a few examples: after outcompeting every other car company in the world by pioneering assembly line production, the Ford motor company suddenly started losing out to General Motors in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Bitter fights within its managerial structure were the result [23]; in the 1970s it was General Motors’ turn to discover its very size was concealing the extent to which it was slipping behind its competitors; the history of British industry in the last 30 years is the history of a succession of such sudden discoveries – it was these which led to the demise of English Electric, Austin-Morris, the old Clyde shipbuilding firms, and so on.

For anyone seeking a career in management studies in the universities there is plenty of literature on this subject – and it is very similar indeed to the pro-perestroika stuff coming from Russia. It stresses how firms need to be continually restructured in order to exploit the workforce in the most efficient way. This requires periodic reorganisation of management structures and pricing policy, as well as investment to improve the productivity of workers.

These problems became particularly acute after 1945. Giant firms which had grown up in the protected boundaries of the inter-war economic empires (the British and French empires, the dollar area, the Japanese co-prosperity zone) faced the problem of fitting into an expanding world economy. How were they to be organised? Two things were necessary. First the firms’ headquarters had to develop a strategy for competing. Central planning years in advance – previously unknown to many firms – was vital.

Second the units of the multinational corporation had to operate as efficiently as possible. Otherwise the size of the multinational could act as a factor producing greater inefficiency, with inefficient units relying on the parent company to bail them out.

All the multinationals periodically examine the possibilities of different kinds of restructuring – and for the same basic reasons as Gorbachev. They seek to combine central planning with efficiency in the subdivisions of the multinationals. Very often the complaints by and about the managers of the different units of the corporations sound like something that could have been said by Abel Aganbegyan or Tatyana Zaslavskaya (the two best-known academic market reformers). For example, an American executive in Thailand was quoted as saying,

these whizz kids are playing around with the figures, but really don’t know what to do with the data ... the more you supply, the more they want ... and my two expatriot assistants and I spend 60 per cent of our time in generating reports and data, and I surely hope somebody is using them as toilet paper ... [24]

Under such conditions, the firms’ costs of production can depart very widely from those which ought to be achieved. The result can be what one economist has called ‘x-inefficiency’ – a level of inefficiency in the company amounting to 30 or 40 per cent of production costs. [25] Production costs and the prices which would prevail in a ‘perfect market’ depart massively from each other. To use Marxist terminology, there are massive short-term infringements of the law of value. Another common problem for big firms is dividing up the profit units. A 1979 description of how Volvo was run states:

the product divisions must negotiate with production managers for manufacturing services at a price that will permit them to sell their autos, buses and trucks at a profit to their ‘customers’ – most of whom are Volvo’s market units. The market units are also profit units since they negotiate with product divisions on a volume and unit price basis.

The same study talks of different ways of subdividing a multinational. Thus there are ‘functional’ organisations (such as manufacturing, finance, purchasing, marketing); regional organisations, or product divisions. Often there is a combination of various types of subdivision.

Different firms structure themselves in different ways. A spokesman quoted from another Scandinavian country in the same study opposes ‘functionalisation’ in this way – ‘too many problems go up and down in too many levels before you get decisions. This overloads top management and prevents further growth of the company.’ [26]

The new forms of organisation that the companies adopt are by no means guaranteed to be successful, and are in some cases abandoned. So why do they adopt them? The answer is the continuous pressure to compete. The more problems there are with profitability the more the capitalist will look to the restructuring of the organisation and the more important effective restructuring becomes.

Economics and politics

Restructuring is rarely easy for capitalist firms. It can lead to bitter clashes between those managers who press for it and those who see their positions threatened. Each side will endeavour to use personal influence – old friendships, promises of promotion, outright bribery – in order to win over key figures within the firm. As a result, changes to the top management of major firms can often resemble military coups: one side gathers support secretly and then calls a surprise board meeting to get rid of its opponents before they can fight back – and in extreme instances will then lock them out of offices from which they’ve worked for decades. [27] And when the restructuring is accomplished by one firm taking over another, then the battle for control can involve outright crookery (as with the Guinness takeover of Distillers) and attempts by both sides to get the support of the state (as with the Westland affair in 1986).

The difficulties with restructuring reach their highest when there is a more or less complete merger between control of industry and control of the state, with state capitalism. The restructuring involves a loss of position by a very large number of managers. As Gorbachev put it in his book, Perestroika [28], ‘we intend to make heavy cuts in the management apparatus’; in 1987 the management of the oil industry was cut by a third and one estimate is that 200,000 officials had been dismissed overall. [29] But managers who risk losing out have something they rarely have under ‘private’ capitalism – a degree of direct control over the forces of the state. Restructuring involves political as well as managerial battles.

So it is that in partial state capitalisms, like Italy or Brazil, arguments about economic policy spill over into political manoeuvres within the main bourgeois parties and within the bureaucracies of the state machine. This has been a key factor in impeding any massive restructuring of the giant, state-controlled firms in both countries.

The merger between state and industrial control has reached its highest pitch in the USSR. At every level the old method of ‘planning’ involved repeated pressure by those in the political apparatus to get managers to fulfil the priorities decided on by the planners, and pressure by the managers on the political bureaucrats to obtain the resources they needed to meet these priorities. The interaction between the economic and political apparatuses is shown by the fact that the leading members of the politburo have undertaken economic functions at various stages in their careers. This interaction takes place at every level of the hierarchy so that even when it comes to the local cells of the party the overwhelming majority of those in control come from managerial positions. [30] So restructuring necessarily involves enormous political fights within the bureaucracy. And these fights do not merely occur once at the national level, but are repeated right down the hierarchy, in every industry and every locality, wherever political and industrial power are entwined as a result of 60 years of state capitalist accumulation.

Gorbachev is not the first to attempt to restructure a bureaucratic state capitalist economy. The death of Stalin was followed by a number of similar attempts. The new leadership almost immediately began to run down the huge labour camps – partly to do away with the threat to individual members of the bureaucracy, but also to replace inefficient slave labour by more efficient ‘free’ labour. The new prime minister Malenkov promised an emphasis on consumer goods rather than producer goods. Khrushchev soon ousted him from political control, only to embark on his own attempts at restructuring. First he pushed decentralisation (through a regionally based system, the ‘sovnarkhozy’), then switched to renewed centralisation.

In Eastern Europe there were attempts at major restructuring in Hungary in 1953–5, in Poland in 1956–7, in Yugoslavia in the mid-1960s, in Czechoslovakia in 1963–8. In each case, these attempts ran into political obstacles – and resulted in greater or lesser political convulsions. So, for example, in Russia the post-Stalin reforms involved a physical confrontation between the majority of the politburo and the head of the GPU, Beria, which was resolved by Beria’s execution; Khrushchev’s reforms led to repeated clashes with other party leaders until he mobilised the generals against them and forced them out of office (and into semi-exile, managing power stations in the Russian far east); the Hungarian reforms led to a civil war atmosphere inside the Communist Party hierarchy between the supporters of the prime minister, Imre Nagy, and the party secretary, Rakosi. [31] These in turn laid the ground for the Hungarian revolution of 1956. The Yugoslav reforms of the mid-1960s could only be accomplished when the party leader, Tito, suddenly turned on the head of security, Rankovic, and dismissed him. The Czech reforms led to the bitter rows in the party leadership which produced the ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968.

The Hungarian and Czechoslovak examples show how splits in the bureaucracy can lead to the whole state losing its ability to control the rest of society. In each case it was only the intervention of Russian troops which eventually restored that control. The examples also show something else: in order to win in these argument a section of the bureaucracy will attempt a limited mobilisation of other sections of society – especially the intellectuals. This involves encouraging them to ask questions about the old line of the bureaucracy, and the individuals who continue to fight for it, which were previously completely banned. Khrushchev first isolated his enemies in the leadership by his secret speech on Stalin’s crimes at the Twentieth Party Congress in February 1956, but could not make his mind up how far to go. Although the speech was printed up, the whole print run was then pulped. [32] At the Twenty-Second Party Congress in 1961 he finally took the battle out into the open. This speech was not such a shock to the world communist movement as the 1956 speech, but it went further. Khrushchev’s former co-leaders of the Politburo – Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich and Voroshilov – were accused of aiding and abetting Stalin. Stalin’s corpse was removed from its place next to Lenin in the Kremlin mausoleum. Khrushchev spoke about millions of deaths under Stalin, not just thousands as in 1956. And he allowed official publication of works which described the realities of life in the Stalin period, such as Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. In the spring and summer of 1956 in Hungary, Imre Nagy’s supporters inside the party and the state machine used journals under their control to challenge the ideas of the Rakosiites and gave official protection to open discussion groups like the Petofi circle. In Czechoslovakia in the first months of 1968, Dubcek supporters like Smrkovsky and Goldstucker used their influence to ignore the censors and to denounce the crimes of the old leadership. A perspective document of the International Socialists which summed up the experience of previous attempts at restructuring appeared in this journal in 1970:

The failure of the economy to achieve balanced growth results in a split in the apparatus. One section begins to demand wholesale reform ... The reforming bureaucracy cannot take control without immobilising its enemies, who normally control the police apparatus. It therefore begins to demand for itself the right to organise within the party and looks for allies to back it up.

At a certain point the reforming bureaucracy calls in certain intermediate strata (intellectuals, journalists, students) to help it paralyse the apparatus and let it take over. But this permits, even encourages, extra-bureaucratic classes (above all the workers) to mobilise, at first behind the sections of the reforming bureaucracy, but increasingly on their own account through workers’ councils etc. The revolution becomes permanent and its demands take on a new significance.

The reformers, having come to power, try to ride the storm. But they can only do so by reasserting the basic class structure of society. This means destroying whatever gains the workers have made. At first the ‘cold’ method of ideological hegemony is tried (e.g. Gomulka successfully, and Nagy, not so successfully in 1956, and Dubcek in 1968); if this fails, then the ‘hot’ method of armed repression ... follows (Kadar in 1956, Husak in 1969).

In any case, the reforming section of the apparatus is forced to come to terms with its enemies, internal and external, and their methods if it is to avoid complete dissolution by the forces it itself has unleashed, his forced to reimpose relations of production that, despite modifications, are in contradiction to the maximal development of the national economy. [33]


Gorbachev, like Imre Nagy and Alexander Dubcek before him, did not have to wage any great fight to obtain a top position in the first place. He inherited power after the sudden deaths of Andropov and then Chernenko. Nor did he have any great record as a reformer. He was, as the exiled dissident Zhores Medvedev put it, ‘neither a liberal nor a bold reformist’. [33a] But he belonged to a generation of bureaucrats who could see the only too visible need for reform without which the Russian economy would face grave problems. It was this generation who manoeuvred together to remove those, 10 or 20 years older than them, who refused to countenance any real economic changes.

This manoeuvring did not, in the main, take the form of open confrontation with those opposed to them. Rather, Gorbachev used the powers of patronage open to the general secretary to promote certain people and retire others, while his allies would use the issue of corruption to displace other opponents (for instance, the then Moscow party leader, Grishin, and the Kazakh party secretary, Kunaev). One of these allies was the secretary of the central committee responsible for party organisation, Ligachev. He pushed through many of the personnel changes and, as a frequent visitor to the Writers Union house, encouraged a degree of liberalisation in the Moscow press in 1985–6. By the end of this period, Ligachev was generally reckoned to be the second most powerful person in the party hierarchy.

There was no disagreement about the need for restructuring among the new generation of politburo and secretariat members; nor about the need to get rid of the Brezhnevites to achieve this. But it is now clear that by the middle of 1986 there were disagreements about the character of the economic measures to be pushed through and the political consequences that followed from them.

Two fundamentally opposed positions seemed to have been presented among those at the top of the power structure. The first, generally thought to emanate from Ligachev, held that now the personnel changes had eliminated the corrupt and inefficient elements associated with the Brezhnev period, all that was necessary was a highly centralised campaign from the top of the party for greater efficiency. Changes in the mechanisms of economic control would be necessary, but these should be based on the form of centralisation that prevailed in East Germany rather than the market model adopted in Hungary and Yugoslavia.

The rival position insisted that restructuring would only work if the old form of economic organisation was changed from top to bottom. There had to be moves in the direction taken by Hungary and Yugoslavia. But this meant a massive confrontation with the old guard in the party and state machine at every level. This required lifting restrictions on the media sufficiently to enable them to hound out these opponents of reform. As one leading economist recently said on Russian television, the reform of the mid-1960s failed because it was ‘localised to the economy’ only:

We wanted to restructure the economy radically without going beyond changes in the economic sphere – without affecting the political sphere, social relations or spiritual and ideological life ... Only a package of transformations in all spheres of life is capable of making cardinal and fundamental changes to the economy. [34]

Most popular accounts of what is happening in the USSR identify Gorbachev with the more thorough-going calls for glasnost (openness) and democratisation. But in fact he seems to have wavered between the two approaches. He has often used top-down campaigning methods which fit the Ligachev approach. This is true, for instance, of his campaign against drunkenness, which has depended upon dictatorial decrees from above increasing the price of alcohol, restricting outlets where it can be bought and sending the police in to seize home-brewing equipment (they made 800,000 such seizures last year!). It is also true of lesser-known campaigns, like his call for people to copy the Stakhanovite movement of Stalin’s time [35] and his injunction to a meeting in Khabarovsk, ‘The main thing needed now is work, work, work.’ [36] More importantly, the increased emphasis on quality control – something which now affects many of the country’s major factories – depends upon increased centralisation. Acceptance of the output of industry depends upon the state committee for standards (Gosstandart); since 1 January 1987 1,500 major enterprises and associations have come under its stringent quality controls. [37]

Glasnost ‘from above’ has in fact gone through two distinct phases. The first, from Gorbachev’s accession through the 27th Party Congress in 1986 to the close of that year, involved a joint effort by all proponents of restructuring, the Ligachevites as well as the more committed reformers, to remove the Brezhnevites. The second phase, from late 1986 through to the present, has, by contrast, involved bitter wrangles between previous allies. In the first half of 1987 the radical reformers tried to assert their control, believing they had at least partial support from Gorbachev. It was at this time that the idea of glasnost really came to the fore, that Gorbachev wrote his book Perestroika, with its bold (if ridiculous) statement that ‘perestroika is a revolution and the most powerful and democratic one at that’ [38] and that plans were made for a special party conference (the first for 47 years!) to ensure the final defeat of the opponents of restructuring.

But it was also in these months that resistance to perestroika really began to grow within the party leadership. Those associated with Ligachev decided that now the Brezhnevites in the leadership had been disposed of, it was time to reassert centralised, authoritarian control. The rows between the two sides seem to have half paralysed the leadership. The Central Committee meeting due for October 1986 was postponed three times because of this, and eventually was held in January 1987. Even then it was a disappointment for Gorbachev. According to politburo member Lev Zaykov, Gorbachev’s opening speech was received with ‘tense silence’ and some of the speeches that followed disagreed with the general secretary. [39] He proposed certain changes in ‘cadre policy’ which he lost. One example of these was the retirement of officials at all levels over a certain age. Compulsory re-election of members of party committees was restricted to the lower levels only. By the spring Gorbachev was complaining, ‘there are concrete carriers of resistance to perestroika in the central committee and the government’. [40]

The more radical reformers were furious and frightened at the sudden growth of resistance. Typical of their reactions was that of Anatoli Strelyani, who told the Moscow State University Komsomol, there are two parties in the party. It is necessary to take sides openly, from top to bottom ... Gorbachev is being slow about expanding the base for perestroika, and this will lead to the defeat of our cause and of Gorbachev himself.’

Meanwhile, the opponents of reform began to assert themselves ever more strongly. Typical was a keynote speech by Ivan Laptev, editor in chief of Izvestia, to the Russian Journalists Union plenum in June. He criticised the way journalists were interpreting glasnost At times, he said, they had ‘slipped into generalisation, starting to criticise ... socialism as a system’ and had ‘overdone’ criticism, ‘overfeeding readers’ with sensational material. [41]

At this point the member of the party leadership most aligned with the radical reformers seemed to be Boris Yeltsin, who was brought from Sverdlovsk to become a Central Committee secretary for construction in July 1985 and six months later was sent in to ‘clean up’ the Moscow city organisation after the enforced resignation of Viktor Grishin. Yeltsin seemed destined for one of the very top positions in the politburo, and was charged with giving a keynote speech to the October 1987 central committee meeting. He used the opportunity to launch a tirade against the opponents of perestroika, attacking Ligachev by name for ‘lacking compassion’. But if he expected Gorbachev’s support he was disappointed. Twenty-six speakers, including Ligachev and the head of the KGB Chebrikov, denounced his speech, and the meeting passed a unanimous resolution declaring his statements to be ‘politically wrong’. The foreign press were told of the arguments taking place, but the Russian people weren’t. The first they heard was three weeks later when a special meeting of the party’s Moscow committee sacked Yeltsin.

The tone of this Moscow meeting was set by Gorbachev himself. He claimed that Yeltsin had ‘adopted high-sounding statements and promises from the very beginning which were largely nourished by his inordinate ambition and fondness for staying in the limelight.’ Yeltsin responded with a much-publicised confession that could have come straight from the Stalin era:

I must say that I cannot refute this criticism. I am very guilty before the Moscow city organisation, lam very guilty before the City Party Committee, before the bureau and, of course, before Mikhail Gorbachev whose prestige is so high in our organisation, in our country and throughout the world. [42]

The sacking of Yeltsin was a substantial victory for the opponents of reform. The impact of it was seen in the speech Gorbachev gave on the anniversary of the October 1917 revolution. Billed in advance as an important statement of policy, it was, in fact, a considerable retreat from the commitment to wide-ranging reform embodied in his book Perestroika. He denounced those who were ‘too impatient’ for change in the same breath as those who resisted it, emphasising that ‘It is absolutely essential to master the skill of revolutionary self restraint’. The months that followed were supposed to prepare the special party conference and to resolve the arguments once and for all.

But this required sufficient unity in the politburo for there to be agreement on measures to be put to a Central Committee meeting and then to the conference. Six months later such agreement still had not been achieved. Instead, the Central Committee discussed a document by Ligachev on education policy. Meanwhile, the local conferences called to report on the progress of perestroika and choose delegates to the national conference went ahead without producing any radical changes: 57,000 people were removed from their positions in the primary party organs, which sounds a lot until you remember that there are 1.3 million people holding such positions; and at city and district level, only 200 officials had been removed. Indeed, such was the resistance to any change that 340 meetings had to be reheld after it was discovered they were ‘show events’ without any discussion at all. [43]

Apparatchiks and intellectuals

The party leadership might have been paralysed from October 1987 onwards, but in this period the ferment below in Russian society grew.

As in Hungary and Poland in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, a section of the intellectuals played a key role. Gorbachev’s glasnost-from-above has involved giving the go-ahead to economists, journalists and writers to criticise the Brezhnev era and those that would perpetuate it. They have been allowed to raise issues that were previously taboo. The opponents of reform have sought to defend themselves by glorifying the Stalin era; even mild proponents of reform like Gorbachev have had to take issue with them over that – although Gorbachev still justifies the general line Stalin pursued.

Some of the best examples of the way the press has been let loose relate to the non-Russian republics. Here Gorbachev has had considerable difficulty dislodging some of the Brezhnev generation, especially Shcherbitsky in the Ukraine and Demirchyan in Armenia. So the Moscow press has often acted as a megaphone for the views of their opponents in the local party apparatus. For instance, in January Izvestia quoted a call for Demirchyan to resign and allegations of ‘extensive bribery in the law enforcement agencies’ made at the Armenian Central Committee. Pravda attacked ‘corruption, protectionism and black marketing’ in the republic; at the Ukrainian Central Committee meeting in Kiev Shcherbitsky was openly criticised by a speaker who demanded that he ‘reorient his life style’.

But any government which gives the go-ahead to intellectuals to criticise its predecessors faces a problem. It is very difficult to prevent the criticism taking on a momentum of its own and coming to reflect other interests besides those of the government. Of course, in any society there are a fair number of intellectuals who are paid hacks and apologists, quite prepared to play the purely ‘functional’ role of defending the status quo in return for a comfortable life. But when society is in deep crisis at least some intellectuals will try to give expression to the feelings of the population at large, even if they try to reconcile these feelings with the existing order. Under these conditions, a relaxation of control over the media leads to a sudden flourishing of all sorts of ideas and arguments. So it is that issues that three years ago could only be raised in the underground samizdat press are now discussed in legal journals and papers with print orders of hundreds of thousands or even millions. The last year has seen the first official admissions that prostitution occurs in Russia, that corruption exists on a large scale, that famine in the 1930s killed millions of people in the Ukraine, that homosexuality is something other than a problem to be left to psychiatric institutions. It has also seen the first reopening, since the ousting of Khrushchev, of discussion on the rise of Stalinism, with reference to the ideas of Bukharin and, to much lesser extent, Trotsky.

This discussion has been one of the main reasons those, like Ligachev, who worked with the reformers to get rid of the Brezh-nevites, have now swung against further reform. They have been able to address themselves to the fears bureaucrats at all levels have about the effects of unlimited opening up.

There have still been quite tight limits on what can be said by the media. The Moscow press were not, for instance, allowed to print the one and a half hour speech that Gorbachev made on Armenian television at the time of the big demonstrations. Representatives of the official press attended a meeting of samizdat editors in Leningrad in October, but no reports of it were printed. The foreign editor of Ogonek was sacked after publishing details of an opinion poll on the popularity of perestroika. In mid-January the same magazine published an article by the veteran writer Illina attacking the way the publishing houses bought the favour of certain authors by publishing huge print runs of their works regardless of their popularity; Pravda carried a big attack on the article and the secretary of the Writers’ Union decreed that such articles must not be allowed in print again. The Armenian correspondent of Pravda was sacked for protesting after his name was put to completely untrue reports.

Yet a divided leadership has a very real problem imposing such limits. For who is going to decide what they are? The radical reformers or the conservatives? The extent of the problem is shown by the most recent infighting in the leadership. On 13 March the paper Sovietskaya Rossiya published a long letter entitled ‘I cannot waive principles’, which claimed to be from a Leningrad chemistry lecturer, Nina Andreyeva. The letter was, in effect, a manifesto of the anti-reform tendency. It complained about the growth of ‘negative tendencies’, of the disparagement of ‘past achievements’, of the attacks on Stalin’s record (quoting Churchill on his merits!), and of the attitudes prevalent among the youth. It claimed that ‘descendants of the classes overthrown by October are alive and well’, along with ‘spiritual heirs of Dan and Martov and other Russian social democrats, the spiritual followers of Trotsky or Yagoda, and the descendants of Nepmen, Basmachis and kulaks’. It said that among the intellectuals there were all sorts of ‘modernistic strivings’ and ‘pretentions to a model of some kind of left-liberal intellectual socialism’. Ominously, it warned, in a tone similar to that used by the Russian and East German press about Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1968, that ‘people in authority’ might have to ‘rescue socialism’.

The letter was a signal for the opponents of reform to move into action. It was, according to one writer in Izvestia,

hastily reprinted in some major and minor newspapers, in some places on orders from local bosses, in other places on newspapers’ own initiative, prompted by a desire not to miss out or a desire to please ... Some rayon [i.e. district] party committees started organising large scale discussions on the article at meetings and faculty sessions which were to express support for the ideas contained in the article ... [44]

Meanwhile, the supporters of radical reform in the media were paralysed:

What did we do to protect and defend perestroika? Maybe there was a wave of angry and ardent party and Komsomol meetings to give a rebuff to Sovietskaya Rossiya? Nothing of the kind. In Leningrad, they held party conferences in support of that article. One was even shown on television. [45]

Similar meetings were held in Moscow and more than 40 newspapers around the country republished the article. Komsomolskaya Pravda later admitted that ‘readers’ letters kept on coming, disagreeing with the article and attacking the positions of the anti-perestroika forces. They were not published.’ [46]

Then, three weeks after the original article appeared, on 5 April, a major editorial article in Pravda, probably written by someone in the politburo, launched a massive counter-attack. It denounced the

wish not to advance the cause but, on the contrary, to slow it down by shouting the usual incantation, ‘they are betraying ideals!’, ‘abandoning Principles’, ‘undermining foundations’ ... Such a stance has its roots in command and edict based bureaucratic management methods. It is also bound up with the moral legacy of the time, as well as naked pragmatic interests and considerations and the desire to protect one’s own privilege at any price ... Conservative opposition to restructuring is composed of ... selfish interests of those accustomed to live at others’ expense.

The long article, I cannot waive principles ... was a reflection of such feelings ... The issues raised are ... couched in a vein which can only be described as a manifesto for the anti-restructuring forces ... The article is primarily aimed at setting off certain categories of Soviet people against one another ...

It continued:

The press needs to contain ‘debates, discussions and polemics’, the Pravda article argues, but it seems there are limits.

It has been repeatedly said at meetings of the Party Central Committee them the Soviet press it not a private concern ... In this case the newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya ... departed from this principle ...

The response to the Sovietskaya Rossiya article shows how infighting within the leadership opens the door to arguments which go beyond what either section of the leadership really wants. The Pravda article begins by seeing more than one threat to the reform strategy.

Some people see it as just another cosmetic repair job. Others have seen restructuring as an opportunity for some kind of ‘dismantling’ of the whole system ... Yet others get carried away with radical phraseology, nurturing I in themselves and others the illusion of skipping necessary stages.

In other words, the reform leadership faces enemies to its left as well as its right. Later it repeats the point, recognising that some intellectuals do raise questions it would prefer them not to:

Some authors, as if they were apostles of truth, pontificate and instruct everyone on what must be done and how. There are many attempts to make one’s mark, cause a sensation and amuse oneself with facts’ and ‘snippets’, not for the sake of truth but to suit one’s own insatiable pride. This leads to juggling with facts, misrepresenting them, and – most important – it substitutes the history of the leadership’s errors for the history of the people ...

Elsewhere it stresses the need for seeing

both Stalin’s indisputable contributions to the struggle for socialism and the defence of socialist gains on the one hand, and on the other hand, his flagrant political errors and the arbitrary rule permitted by him and his entourage for which our people paid a great price ...

But the need to fight the conservative right means that this measured tone could not determine the reformers’ immediate actions. And so the overall message of the article was that the ‘intelligentsia’ must continue to challenge entrenched bureaucratic interests:

Democratism is impossible without freedom of thought and speech, without the open, broad clash of opinions and without keeping a critical eye on our life. Our intelligentsia has done much to prepare public awareness to understand the need for profound, cardinal changes. It has itself become actively involved in the restructuring. [47]

The message was quickly taken up by the media. Sovietskaya Rossiya reprinted the Pravda article. Izvestia published attacks of its own on the original Sovietskaya Rossiya ‘letter’, Pravda printed column after column of letters of denunciation. But those who joined in the attack often went much further than the Pravda writer.

A good example is the speech which the dramatist Aleksandr Gelman made in opening the party assembly of the board of the Russian Union of Cinematographers, important both because it would have laid down the guidelines within which film makers operate and because it was printed in Sovietskaya Kultura and referred to favourably on the radio.

He insisted that the Sovietskaya Rossiya article ‘serves the vital interests of the bureaucracy, including the party bureaucracy ...’ He warned that the party conference ‘could be the bridgehead on which they will try to engage a resolute battle with restructuring’ and urged that ‘rank and file Communists should not sit idly by and await the decisions of the party conference ... Our concern with the fate of restructuring must be transformed into real action. Not only into books, screenplays, plays and films, but also into real, direct, political action. The progress of preparation for the conference cannot wholly be assigned to the party apparatuses ...’

He went on to call not only for the debates at the conference to be broadcast ‘without cuts’, but for this principle to be extended to the Central Committee meetings. Finally he made what seems to be an oblique reference to the Yeltsin affair:

We cannot allow it, as has frequently been the case in the past, that society and the party should suddenly learn of the shortcomings and errors of a Particular party figure. There have already been enough of those information shocks, those blows at the head, when at first someone is for a long tune considered a really good man and then suddenly – bang! – it turns out he is an adventurist or extremist or is in favour of ‘glasnost without limits’. One reader of mine wrote in a letter to say, just you wait, ‘Your Gorbachev will yet be thrown out for glasnost without limit’.

This speech, it is important to stress, was from a reformer who did not want things to go too far. He warned that

In many heads everything has become confused. Alongside the fair, justified, necessary demonstrations and protests we can observe, and there may be more of them in future, protests connected with thoughtlessness, false certainties and extremist feelings. In addition to the danger that restructuring may be halted by its direct opponents, there is also a danger from the extremist forces who support restructuring ... [48]

Yet again, this last warning was more a marker for the future thanl an operational guide for the present. The film makers listening will have drawn the conclusion that they should be more radical, not less so. The fact that Moscow television has since shown film of the Armenian demonstrations shows the extent to which sections of the media are taking the message seriously. [48a]

Other contributors to the attack on the conservative right went considerably further even than Gelman. A letter from the history professor, Dashichev, in Izvestia, insisted, ‘millions fell victim to Stalin’s repression! They were the flower of the intelligentsia, of military and technical specialists and scientists. And the peasants? Does the author of the Sovietskaya Rossiya letter take account of their losses as the result of forced collectivisation?’ [49] In the new climate, the radio could carry an account by a broadcaster of how, ‘my father, a major party official, was repressed in 1937. My mother suffered too. Having fought in the war, in 1949 I myself was repressed ...’ [50] In a television round table discussion on the Sovietskaya Rossiya letter, Fedor Burlatsky of Literaturnaya Gazeta could argue that throughout the history of the party there had been two contending trends, one embodied in ‘war communism’ as represented by Stalin, the other on the New Economic Policy. [51] In another, earlier, television programme, Abalkin, director of the Economics Institute of the USSR Academy of Science, ‘denied the system under Stalin and Brezhnev had been at all socialist. It was an alien system which deformed economic, political and social relations.’ [52]

Glasnost from below

Glasnost from above has extended the fight over future policy from the top leadership of the party into the ranks of those who control the levers of intellectual life, those who determine the content of newspapers, radio and TV broadcasts, films, plays, novels, educational syllabuses, and so on. But once arguments begin to occur in such milieus they cannot be restricted to the issues laid down by the rival leadership factions. Glasnost from above opens the door for something much more profound – glasnost from below.

One of the most significant developments during the last 18 months has been that while the leadership has been locked in internal battle, ‘autonomous’ or ‘informal’ groups have proliferated on an enormous scale. Such groups have been in existence for a number of years. Even under Brezhnev there were Helsinki monitoring groups. But the number has mushroomed since Gorbachev’s glasnost speech at the Central Committee meeting in January 1987. By December it was claimed that there were 30,000 groups throughout the country. [53]

The groups are not independent of the state. They have to register with the local authorities, submit membership lists and state the aims of their organisation. That is not complete independence. Nevertheless the existence of the groups has been a central element in the explosion of the current unrest.

There is a huge range of different informal groups. A recent article in Pravda, for instance, mainly talked about groups thrown up, more or less spontaneously, by young people, for instance those associated with different sorts of music (e.g. Beatles and Heavy Metal), those with a hippy orientation and those with an ecological bent. For the Pravda writer the important thing about them was that they had somehow tapped the activism which 30 or 40 years ago would have gone into Komsomol, when its members still saw themselves as committed to the economic transformation of a backward country. Clearly one of the aims of the legalisation of the groups was to try to influence their development.

Some of the groups are explicitly political. A conference of some of these, entitled Social Initiatives in Perestroika, was held in Moscow last summer. The proposal for the conference arose from the Social Initiatives Club. In the Komsomol weekly Sobosednik it said, ‘The Moscow Party Committee helped solve all the technical problems.’ [54] At first forty groups were represented by 250 delegates. By the end of the conference, as more people arrived from the provinces, this number rose to 600 delegates representing 50 groups.

Since the conference there have been reports of the growth of the informal clubs in every part of Russia. In Georgia there has been the formation of ‘numerous unofficial groups’. [55] In Byelorussia there is a proliferation of unofficial youth groups’, 30 groups attended a Byelorussian Patariotic Association’ conference and the first secretary of the Byelorussian Komsomol entered into ‘an active polemical dialogue’ with the groups, even though the central Komsomolskaya Pravda attacked them. [56] The Ukrainian Culturological Club was formed last summer by a group of Kiev citizens, including former Political prisoners, and was attacked in the Kiev daily, Verchirnii Kyev, in October; the attack was followed by an exchange of letters in the paper, including four defending it, and an ‘unsuccessful meeting’ between club members and the editor. [57]

The clubs do not adhere to any one political line. This is shown most clearly by the fact that one of the best-known informal organisations in Pamyat, ostensibly committed to honouring Russian national monuments, is in fact bringing together those who hark back to an authoritarian, centralist Russian nationalism with Stalinist undertones. The national monuments to which they are committed celebrate the victory of the old Russian empire over the various non-Russian peoples incorporated in it, rather as the River Boyne and Derry’s walls symbolise for Northern Ireland Orangemen the subjugation of the Catholics.

There is a wide diversity of views among the clubs supporting) change. This was shown at the Moscow conference. There was a sharp disagreement between the groups mainly committed to peres-troika and the human rights activists. ‘The debates were conducted in a stormy fashion in the political clubs section in which representatives of the so-called human rights movement, the seminar Democracy and Humanism, took part. There was a sharp polemic with them over the question of general democratic freedom’. [58]

An examination of the groups and the results of the conference show why the state allowed them to meet. The best known, the Social Initiatives Club in Moscow, was founded in late 1986 by sociologists F. Pelman and Boris Kagarlitsky, the journalist G. Pavlovsky and the philosopher M. Malyutin. The group was involved with the state-run Komsomolskaya Pravda but later became independent. Kagarlitsky had been involved with the young socialist groups, an underground organisation, and served time in prison. Pavlovsky had edited the samizdat journal Poisky (Quests) and was also imprisoned. Malyutin is a member of the party. Despite having been an ‘enemy of the state’, Kagarlitsky, the group’s leading spokesperson, now describes the aims of the group as ‘to consolidate the left wing of perestroika’. In May 1987 the club split in two when the Fund for Social Initiatives was set up. A month later the KSI split again but the two parts soon grew larger than the original group – demonstrating the fast spread of the autonomous groups. [59] There are groups which have not registered such as Epicentre, described by Severukhin as ‘a cultural democratic movement’. It produces its own samizdat, Merkur – but it is now not as far underground as it used to be and has even received favourable references in the official press.

Severukhin reports that several other cities have seen the formation of what he calls ‘left’ groups. By ‘left’ he means left perestroikists. The most radical of these groups decrees ‘no collaboration with the authorities’ and aims for ‘revolutionary self-management by the masses’. It is called the All-Union Corresponding Social-Political Club (VZSPK). It had its conference in Moscow in May 1987. Unfortunately, according to his report, splits have prevented the group from working. The August conference ended with Kagarlitsky reading out the declaration of socialist social clubs on the last day. The declaration commits the clubs to constitutional opposition within the framework of the present system. It does not call for free trade unions or the right of nations to secede from Russia.

The declaration announces the formation of The Federation of Socialist Social Clubs, ‘whose main goal is to support perestroika’. The groups claim their constitutional right ‘to express and defend their interests independently without any intermediaries’, and call for the right to run candidates in elections to all levels of the Soviets of People’s Deputies, with right of access to the media.

These clubs really want to continue the present set-up only with more democracy and a kind of Yugoslav ‘self-management’ system. The declaration demands ‘the change of the economy to a system of self-management’ and the monitoring of the system of management from below, ‘to help promote reorientation of the system of state planning and management bodies away from the prevalent administrative methods towards economic methods’. This essentially accepts the superiority of the market economy.

The importance of the informal groups, however, does not depend in the main on their ostensive politics, but on the fact that, in a situation where the party leadership is split, they can provide foci around which forces outside the bureaucracy can organise without immediate fear of the KGB. In this sense they can play a role similar to that played by the Petöfi Circle in Hungary in 1956, providing a pole of attraction for those who want to go beyond the confines laid down by official reformers. The present political diversity of the groups is an expression of a mass of weird and wonderful ideas that are bound to be thrown up when a variety of different social forces first begin to find legitimate channels for self-expression after six decades of enforced ideological monolithism. The existing groups are likely to be eclipsed by new, and different, formations if the movement really takes on a mass character – as the Petöfi Club was eclipsed when Hungary’s workers rose in revolt in 1956.

For the moment, however, the clubs can be a very important bridge to the masses for intellectuals beginning to go beyond the units of discussion laid down by the party hierarchy. This is shown most vividly by what has been happening in some of the non-Russian national republics.

The national question in Russia

Half the population of Russia is non-Russian. The official position of both wings inside the country’s leadership is that these are happily integrated into existing society. Gorbachev writes of the nationalities in glowing terms: [60]

Against the background of national strife, which has not spared even thi world’s most advanced countries, the USSR represents a truly unique example in the history of human civilisation. The Russian nation played ark outstanding role in the solution of the nationality question.

He continues in similar vein.

Meeting people during my tours of republics and national regions of the Soviet Union, I see for myself over and over again that they appreciate and take pride in the fact that their nations belong to one big international family. [61]

But the harsh reality of life for many non-Russians is very different to this. The ruling bureaucracy is overwhelmingly made up of Russians and, to a lesser extent, other Slavs. So of the 12 members of the politburo, only two (Shcherbitsky and Shevardnadze) are non-Russian. Russians make up just under half of the population, yet they are 59.7 per cent of the party membership of 18 million. Although the first secretary of the party in the non-Russian republics is usually (although not always) a member of the local ethnic group, the powerful second secretary is usually Russian. And non-Russians who want to make a career for themselves have to do so by adapting

to the dominant nationality and accepting what is for them a foreign language.

This means there are various degrees of discrimination against the non-Russian half of the population throughout society. In 1984 4,218 periodicals appeared in Russian compared to 736 for all the other languages. [62] In Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, 23 per cent of children are taught in Ukrainian [63] although 58.7 per cent of the population use Ukraine as their native language according to the census of 1979. Some 4.5 per cent of the city’s pupils did not study Ukrainian at all. The problems are often particularly acute for people from a rural background who migrate to the cities. In Kirghizia 52 per cent of the people speak Kirghiz, but Russians predominate in the cities. In urban areas inhabited by the indigenous population there is not a single kindergarten which uses their language – in other words, discrimination because of language begins at the age of three! [64]

The fastest population growth today takes place among the Asian peoples of the country. But the main industrial expansion is in Russian populated areas, and Asians who want, for instance, to get jobs in the Moscow area have to accept the status of temporary, immigrant workers (rather like guest workers in West Germany).

The non-Russian nationalities first came under Russian rule with the expansion of the Czarist empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Czarist bureaucracy pursued a policy of ruthless Russification, encouraging Russian colonists to settle in the conquered lands and attempting to destroy local languages and customs. The Russian revolution of 1917 briefly changed all that. The Bolsheviks were only able to beat back counter-revolution and foreign intervention by combining with the struggle of workers against capitalists and peasants against landowners the struggle for national rights for the oppressed ethnic groups – including the right to secession (a right which was exercised by the Finns and the Baltic states). There were complex and bloody struggles as sections of the local bourgeoisie intrigued with white Russian, German, British, French and Polish invading forces. But precisely because the Bolsheviks offered full rights to the different nationalities for the first time, by the early 1920s they were able to ‘root themselves’ in every national group and to hold them together in a voluntary union. [65]

But the bureaucratisation of the revolutionary regime recreated conditions for renewed national oppression. As the party increasingly worked with and absorbed sections of the old Czarist bureaucracy, it began to succumb to its methods. This was already clear in 1922 when, to the anger of the dying Lenin, Stalin used the crudest methods, including violence, against the Georgian Bolsheviks. [66] By the mid-1920s people like Rakovsky who, as Bolshevik leader in the Ukraine, had fought to keep it part of the union, were protesting at the increasing tendency of the central bureaucracy to ignore national susceptibilities. [67]

The bureaucracy’s turn to forced, state capitalist accumulation in 1928 was accompanied by the complete return of national oppression. The bureaucracy itself had to be fashioned into a monolithic instrument, capable of forcing through industrialisation and collectivisation, regardless of the level of hardship it caused to the local workers and peasants, with whom all links had to be broken. Russification of the apparatus in the non-Russian areas achieved this. At the same time as the bureaucracy and the party were purged of those members who might be soft on workers or peasants, it was also purged of all those who might defend the rights of Ukrainians, Georgians, Azers, Byelorussians and so on. For Stalin Russification failed the added bonus that, by eliminating a whole layer of office holders, it created increased opportunities for Russian speakers who wanted to rise in the bureaucracy. Finally it established an ideology of Russian supremacy which could be used to bind Russian, intellectuals and workers to the regime.

The repression of the nationalities was part of the more general strengthening of authoritarian ideology. In 1934 homosexuality became punishable by a 5–8 year prison sentence. It was also the year when a decree on teaching history was passed. The Czarist expansionism of previous centuries was hailed as progressive and in the interests of the subjugated peoples.

Several measures were used to enforce Russian superiority. The teaching of Russian was made compulsory in schools on 13 March 1938. The languages of the peoples of central and eastern Russia were Russified – the Cyrillic alphabet was forced on them (whereas in the 1920s there had been a move to use the Latin alphabet) and Russian words were substituted for Arab, Turkish or Persian words. In one nationality after another, the cream of the local intelligentsia were dragged into the camps or the execution chamber. In the biggest of the non-Russian republics, the Ukraine, this occurred as famine was wiping out millions of people, as many as seven million according to some estimates. As Russian-speaking bureaucrats and a Russian army seized the crops from starving peasants, national resentments grew massively.

With the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939, the reversion to the methods of the Czarist empire went a stage further. Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Moldavia (the Rumanian-speaking area also known as Bessarabia) were absorbed into Russia. So was Eastern Poland as it was then known. But Stalin was more ruthless in imposing his ‘solution’ to the national question than the Czars. Whole populations were deported to prevent the risk of rebellion against the new rulers. On the night of 14–15 June 1941 around 60,000 Estonians, 34,000 Latvians and 38,000 Lithuanians were deported. Russians were sent in to take their property.

Four hundred thousand Volga Germans as well as a million other German speakers who lived in other parts of Russia were exiled to the east in 1941. A decree was passed in December 1943 deporting every citizen in the Kalmyk republic to Siberia, some quarter of a million people. Whole nations were deported in 1944 – the 700,000 Chechens, 250,000 Crimean Tartars, 190,000 Karachi. The Balkars were also deported. All their autonomous republics and regions were wiped off the map.

In his famous Twentieth Congress speech, Khrushchev said ‘the Ukrainians avoided this fate only because there were too many of them ... Otherwise Stalin would have deported them also’.

After Stalin’s death the worst excesses of his policies were toned down. Khrushchev went out of his way to attack Stalin’s deportations in his secret speech and some of the deported nationalities were allowed to return home (although not the Volga Germans and the Crimean Tartars). A number of leaders of the non-Russian republics closely associated with Stalin’s policies were demoted, while others who had previously been punished for ‘bourgeois nationalism’ were reinstated. [68] But as Tony Cliff pointed out shortly before Khrushchev was ousted from power:

The main lines of the nationalities policy have not changed radically ... In the governments of the Asian republics, newly appointed in 1959, of the 118 ministers no fewer than 38 were Europeans – and these usually held key portfolios such as those of state security, planning and the chair or deputy chair of the council of ministers. The idealisation of the Czarist annexations continued and the Russian language continues to edge out the national languages, even in the schools in the national republics ... Although non-Russians constitute about half the population of the USSR, the circulation of papers in non-Russian languages constituted in 1958 only 18 per cent of the total circulation. [69]

Part of the ‘stagnation’ of the Brezhnev era consisted in leaving the situation of the non-Russian republics untouched. The tendency towards Russification continued (so that today, for instance, the proportion of pupils in the Ukraine educated using Ukraine has fallen by 20 per cent in the last two decades) [70] and the victories of the Czarist armies are still praised. At the same time local first secretaries were allowed to build a base for themselves by the odd reference to ethnic traditions as well as by allowing corruption to flourish. The intelligentsia in the non-Russian republics was tolerated, but hardly encouraged, in these years.

One other thing needs to be added before there can be any understanding of the complexity of the national question in Russia. ‘Divide and rule’ did not merely mean Stalin encouraging Russian discrimination against non-Russians. It also meant dividing the non-Russian peoples against each other. Most of the national republics have their own minority ethnic groups – Moldavians, Byelorussians and Poles in the Ukraine, Armenians and Azers in Georgia, Armenians and Georgians in Azerbaijan, and everywhere, °f course, Russians. While the majority local population faces discrimination in favour of Russians, it will often discriminate against its minorities. So it is that the 300,000 Armenians in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan were denied any television programmes in their own language.

Perestroika, glasnost and the national question

The national question is particularly difficult for the reforming wing of the leadership because perestroika and glasnost have opposite implications for the nationalities. Restructuring the economy means cutting out inefficiency and corruption. According to the present leadership, some of the worst instances of this arose during the Brezhnev era among the different non-Russian republican governments – in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Georgia. Restructuring also means directing resources to intensify growth in the, most profitable enterprises, which is likely to mean those in the most advanced part of the country, rather than extensive development of new industry. This means the centre helping enterprises tea break free of restraints imposed by local bureaucratic interests at the republic level. The Gorbachevites see breaking the hold of many of the old republic leaderships as a precondition for all this.

So Gorbachev has replaced the party chief Kunaev in Kazakhstan and Kotandzhyan in Uzbekistan, has persuaded the leading Azer, Aliyev, to resign, has criticised the Armenian boss Demirchyan for failing to back perestroika sufficiently, and is thought to be after the scalp of the 70-year-old Ukrainian first secretary, Shcherbitsky. But in attacking such people, Gorbachev can easily provoke national resentments. Their corruption has often been used to cultivate local roots, including certain vaguely nationalist sentiments. What can happen was shown when Gorbachev sacked Kunaev, the Kazakh first secretary, and imposed a Russian on the republic late in 1986: hundreds of thousands of Kazakhs flooded into the local capital, Alma Ata, from the countryside to protest. This protest was eventually suppressed by the intervention of the army. In an effort to discredit the demonstrations, the Moscow press claimed they were organised by elements associated with the sacked leader, and, using scarcely veiled racist language, that it was only intoxication with hashish that brought them on to the streets.

By contrast, glasnost provides an opportunity for the indigenous intelligentsia of each ethnic group to organise openly and for people who were previously persecuted for their dissident opinions to begin to exercise some local influence. So informal groups have been spreading at great speed in virtually all the republics. Often these have been able to find hundreds, if not thousands of local supporters. In Latvia on 14 June 1987, around 5,000 people demonstrated commemorating the deportation of the Latvians to Siberia on 14 June 1941. The demonstration was allowed to continue unmolested by the police. A demonstration of 300 Latvians to the freedom monument on 27 December was followed by a bigger demonstration a week later. An official press report stated that 2,000 youths with knives and clubs were involved. [71] In August 1987, the anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin pact was commemorated by demonstrations in all the Baltic states.

Demonstrations of Crimean Tartars were widespread last year. On 2 August 5,000 are estimated to have demonstrated near Tashkent in Uzbekhistan, where most of them were deported. On 6 June 1987 80 Crimean Tartars demonstrated in Red Square. The demonstration was broken up by police. Between 23 and 26 July some 300 Tartars sat-in by the Kremlin wall. TASS issued a statement admitting that the Tartars wanted to put right ‘violated historic justice’. After a delegation had met president Gromyko another demonstration followed on 3 August. In January 1988 demonstrations by Tartars were reported in several cities in the republic of Uzbekhistan. In the republic of Kirghizstan Tokombaev, an 82-year-old poet told Pravda of disturbances that might lead to an Alma Ata. [72] In some Islamic areas there has been a clear rise of Islamic fundamentalism, no doubt influenced by the war in Afghanistan and, perhaps, by the events in Iran. In Tajikistan in central Asia there was a report of the arrest of a mullah, Abdullo Saidov. ‘The news caused his accomplices and those believing in the mullah who had vowed of their “loyalty” to him to rise up ... A group of adventurers and idlers of the town also joined them, disturbing social order on the streets and disrupting the work of state departments.’ [73] Other reports have complained about Communists going to mosques and about the number of suicides of girls who did not want to accept arranged marriages.

Most of the local national groups are not yet mobilising on the streets, but their influence spreads everywhere, especially among the youth. So the groups have been spreading in Moldavia; in Byelorussia a meeting in the Minsk Hall of the People turned into a ‘virtual demonstration’ as poetry readings were followed by a discussion on Stalin’s treatment of the Byelorussian intellectuals and the singing of the Byelorussian national song [74]; in Kiev the Ukrainian Culturological Club has forced the local paper to discuss the fate of Ukrainian intellectuals under Stalin and, perhaps most explosively, the famine of 1932–3; in Georgia the Chavatchavdze association has held a 200-strong demonstration in the cemetery where victims of the 1930s purges are buried, has taken part in a campaign against a planned Caucasian railway which has collected thousands of signatures and has been subject to a series of attacks in the press. [75]

But even where the organised activities are so far at a low level they can cause immense worry to the party leadership. Sixty years of national oppression have created a mass of frustrations and bitterness. The splits within the central party leadership in Moscow and between the Moscow leaders and the local bureaucrats are loosening the tight control that used to exercise over the local media and allow some nationalist ideas to find expression. And the local leaders are not averse, on occasions, to playing the nationalist card in order to protect themselves. Under such conditions, local nationalisms – and the informal associations which embody them – can become a focus for a whole range of other discontents and bring very large numbers of people into confrontation with the central state apparatus. This is shown most clearly by the Armenian agitation of February, March and April of 1988.

The Armenian events

The first demonstration took place in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, on 1 September 1987. Two hundred people gathered outside the Nairet chemical plant to protest at toxic emissions that were damaging the health of local people. This followed the signing, the year before, of an open letter to Gorbachev by 350 Armenian intellectuals over the pollution and leaks from the nearby Medzamov nuclear power plant. A second demonstration followed on 17 October. This was 2,000 to 4,000 strong. Big enough to attract considerable attention in a city of one million, it ended in a rally where speakers included the journalist Zori Balayan. Meanwhile a small group of Armenians from the Karabakh circulated a petition calling for unity with the Armenian republic. This obtained 90,000 signatures, out of a Karabakh population of 125,000. [76]

These protests took place against a background of increasingly bitter infighting in the local bureaucracy as first secretary Demirchyan’s supporters fought to defend him against attacks inspired by the reformers in Moscow. The Moscow press printed a number of statements by critics of Armenian party organisation. For instance, a speech denouncing corruption at the Armenian Central Committee and calling on Demirchyan to resign and another revealing that the Institute of History of the Armenian Academy of Science was discussing questions such as ‘protectionism and bribery in political life, serious ecological problems facing the republic and a quiet sabotaging of restructuring by petty officials’. [77] At the beginning of this year the novelist Petrosyan was removed as chair of the Armenian writers’ union for defending the local party against charges of obstructing perestroika.

Such was the situation in mid-February when the mass petition caused the Soviet in the Karabakh region to vote to leave Azerbaijan and to unite with the Armenian SSR. People who were picketing a proposed chemical plant site heard of this and went to join a meeting over the issue in Yerevan city centre. [78] Within a week’ daily protests attracted crowds of hundreds of thousands in and around the square. ‘The entire republic, the whole Armenian people, is on the streets’, Sergei Grigoryants, the editor of the samizdat magazine, Glasnost, reported from the city. [79] ‘We could never have anticipated anything like it’, said one of the activists, the young economist Muriadin. [80] The demonstrators were carrying pictures of Gorbachev and slogans such as ‘Karabakh is the test of perestroika’, and there have been some suggestions that the local party leadership gave a degree of support to the demonstrations. [81] But:

According to accounts from Yerevan, Karen Demirchyan, the Armenian party chief, was greeted by boos and whistles from a crowd gathered outside the opera house in the city centre as he appealed for a return to normal. ‘Who’s going to pay you for four days on strike?’ he reportedly demanded of the demonstrators ... [82]

Gorbachev spoke for an hour and a half on Armenian television, politburo members rushed to Armenia and Azerbaijan from Moscow, and twenty-nine plane loads of troops were flown in and deployed in the city. But the demonstrations continued for several days until Gorbachev agreed to unprecedented negotiations with representatives, such as the poet Silva Kaputikyan and the journalist Zori Balayan, elected at a huge mass meeting. They then suspended their protests for a month. Meanwhile, there was a sudden unexplained outbreak of communal rioting in the Azerbaijan industrial port of Sumgait, on the Caspian sea near Baku. Azer crowds set out on what was, in effect, a pogrom of Armenian inhabitants, killing at least 31. [83] In Baku, where Armenians have always constituted a considerable portion of the working class, ‘Armenians are said to have removed name plates from their apartment doors for fear of being attacked’.

The illusions of the Armenian demonstrators in Gorbachev did not last long. The issue of whether the Karabakh should be in Azerbaijan or Armenia might seem a minor one. But Gorbachev soon realised that if he were to make concessions over this issue, not only would he anger possible allies in the Azerbaijan bureaucracy, but he would also open the way for a mass of similar demands right across the USSR, such was the complex of national antagonisms left by 60 years of divide-and-rule. The politburo used the month-long suspension of demonstrations in Yerevan to make preparations for repression. The weekend the demonstrations were due to resume it sealed off both Armenia and the Karabakh, filled the streets of the cities with troops and arrested at least one of the leaders of the Protests, Piruir Airikyan, of the ‘association for self-determination’.

Pravda printed a discussion between its correspondent and an Armenian historian, Gevorg Garibdjanyan. The correspondent insisted strikes were not part of glasnost. ‘I cannot see such a “form of discussion” within the framework of perestroika’, he said and alleged that the demonstrations had been taken over by ‘political careerists and adventurers, among them those who proposed turning Armenia into a non-party republic’. The historian replied, ‘The huge mass of people believed that everything they were doing was in the spirit of perestroika, but in reply they got the same old labels stuck on them’. [84]

Repression prevented demonstrations in Yerevan. But it could not stop a general strike in the Karabakh. The city of Stepanakert seems to have been paralysed for nearly a fortnight. [85] Nine days after the strike began, Izvestia could only claim that ‘more than half the workers at the electrical equipment works and the Karabakh silk combine and a third of the workers in the footwear and furniture factories were at their machines’. The paper complained that, ‘certain agitators who went round the workers’ flats canvassing to persuade them to go to work the next day were practically called traitors to their faces.’ [86]

The Armenian events show very clearly how the national question can suddenly explode in the face of the Russian leadership and present them with situations they find it very hard to control. They might eventually have succeeded in regaining the initiative in Armenia and Azerbaijan, but it has taken much more time and effort than the last massive explosion of discontent, in Kazakhstan 18 months ago. They must live in fear of an explosion not among the million or so Kazakhs or the three million Armenians, but the fifty million Ukrainians.

As it is, the Armenian events greatly complicated things for Gorbachev in the run up to the special party conference. It will have made it much harder for him to get rid of those opponents of perestroika who have a base in the national republics, and it will have strengthened the conservative forces inside the Russian-speaking bureaucracy who see glasnost as threatening the whole structure of bureaucratic control and who rely on great Russian chauvinism as a weapon to use against it. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the Sovietskaya Rossiya attack on reform appeared on 13 March, right after the Yerevan demonstrations, or that the reformers in the leadership did not feel confident to launch their counter-attack in Pravda until 6 April, when they had shown they could halt the demonstrations and strikes.

The workers

In the long term the question of the working class can be even more worrying for both wings of the bureaucracy than the national question. Any restructuring of industry, whether carried through in the centralised, authoritarian manner favoured by Ligachev or by reliance on the market favoured by the radical reformers, or by some combination of the two, involves attacks on the working conditions and wages of important sections of workers. This is bound to provoke resistance. Yet the infighting between the different wings of the bureaucracy can paralyse the old mechanisms of repression. A working-class version of glasnost-from-below can develop and make impossible perestroika on the bureaucracy’s terms. The most dangerous of all slogans for the bureaucracy as a whole can take root among the 100 million or so Russian workers – ‘glasnost yes, perestroika no’.

The bureaucracy need workers to feel that they have some stake in the present system. It cannot increase productivity and cut back on waste and inefficiency unless it can increase the sense of identification of the direct producers with the production process. Only then can it begin to get the feedback of information it needs to be able to judge what the real resources are at its disposal. And only then can it begin really to identify who the inefficient managers are and to eliminate them. For this reason it has introduced a number of new mechanisms.

First there is the electoral reform. The normal procedure was for there to be no choice at all. The only possibility was to register a ‘no’ vote. In June 1987 the rules were changed for the local elections to the Soviets. Nine hundred and thirty-nine candidates stood in 740 seats. The reform only applied to 5 per cent of the seats, and there was no question of allowing the candidates to stand on alternative policies. Secondly, the election of managers in the factories has received wide publicity in the media in Russia. But the rules for the elections make it clear that the workers will not have any real control. The workers do not themselves determine who is on the short list of candidates to be voted on, and the successful candidate has to be approved by the ‘superior organ’ in charge of the enterprise. [87] It is not just the workers, but all employees (including Managers, supervisors and foremen) who have the vote. And, finally, in the elections which have taken place so far, workers have lot been allowed to campaign for or against individual candidates, as workers in the Latvian factory of RAF cars have complained. It is easy to see how, under such circumstances, the only group allowed lo operate openly within the factory, the party cell, can nearly always determine the outcome of the election, using it as a method of getting rid of a manager deemed ‘inefficient’ by rivals in the bureaucratic hierarchy. Alongside the ‘election’ of managers, elected enterprise committees have been set up. But, again, the rules for election make it clear that this is not an example of real workers’ democracy. The ‘primary’ task of the committees is the monitoring of worker performance and the encouragement of enterprise productivity.

The council concentrates its main attention on the development of the initiative of the working people and the contribution of each worker to the common cause and implements measures to achieve high end results and to earn the collective’s economically accountable revenue ... [88]

The first election campaigns were based almost entirely on candidates’ records of promoting efficiency and productivity and their adherence to ‘the norms of socialist legality and morality’. [89] These bodies are clearly much closer to quality control circles than to real factory councils! And if there were any doubt on the matter, Article Six of the law spells out that the party organisation ‘directs the work of the organisation of collective self management’.

Gorbachev himself has no doubts as to what he wants from the workers. At the January plenum in 1987 he spoke about the role of trade unions thus:

During restructuring I see the new role of trade unions to be, first and foremost, one of preventing technocratic half efforts in the economy, which I must say have become quite widespread in recent years, and of increasing the social monitoring of decisions that are adopted. [90]

There is already evidence from sources in Russia that workers have far less illusions in glasnost and perestroika than the middle classes. A poll conducted in 1,000 enterprises in the Urals found that a quarter of the workers believed that perestroika would only make a difference to their lives after five years, and seventy percent thought it would mean an increase in work. As the Director of the Moscow Sociological Research Institute put it after his organisation conducted a poll with similar findings, published in May 1987, ‘the closer you are to production, the lower your appraisal of the ongoing process.’ This cynicism towards perestroika is hardly surprising, since like rationalisation and restructuring in the West it involves suffering for considerable numbers of workers. The quality controls have already led to wage cuts for workers in a number of plants. The reformers want increased intensity of work to be one of the main ways of raising productivity, while many of the intellectual proponents of reform claim, in language which could come from the Daily Telegraph letters column, ‘no-one works in Russian factories’. Virtually all reform economists believe there have to be massive price increases. Many hint that restructuring will mean redundancies an unemployment. The low rates of economic growth will mean that the reforms will not be pushed through as workers’ living standards are rising, as were attempts at reform in eastern Europe in the mid-1950s and in Russia itself in the mid-1960s.

How will workers react to the attacks on their conditions? The conservative section of the bureaucracy may well try to con workers into siding with it, claiming that it has stood for working-class interests in the past. There are some left-wing analysts of Russia who partially go along with this, claiming that workers have been able to compensate for their lack of political or trade union rights by a kind of collusion with management which gives them a privileged position in the system. This has had a corrupting influence on working-class consciousness and explains the lack of strikes since Stalin took power.

For instance, there is the pripiska (writing in of work that has not been done, and output that has not been produced), to fool the central planners. David Seppo quotes a Russian study in which it is claimed that ‘the pripiska could account for up to 40 per cent of a worker’s wage’. [91] Other writers refer to the low level of unemployment, claiming that this is based on an informal ‘social contract’ between the bureaucracy and workers. And Frank Furedi [92] even goes so far as to claim that the workers are ‘subsidised’ by the system. In fact, the birth of the Stalin period witnessed very large strikes. [93] But industrialisation saw the old working class, with its traditions of struggle, massively diluted by an influx of ex-peasants into the factories. Those workers who did try to fight back were dragged off to labour camps, if not executed, and Stalin carefully used the show trials to try to deflect bitterness to individual lower level bureaucrats and away from the regime itself. Under these conditions, whatever strikes took place were isolated and easily smashed. Even under the less repressive post-Stalin governments, those who have organised strikes have ended up in labour camps and those, like the miner Klebanov, who have tried to establish independent unions, have been locked away for years (and are still locked away, not benefiting horn the more liberal regime allowed to dissident intellectuals). With few possibilities of collective struggle, individual workers turned to individual methods of improving their lot – such as Moving from one enterprise to another in a search for higher pay (which managers could grant by regrading them). Full employment was not a consequence of a bureaucratic attempt to placate workers, but rather of the labour shortage created by the flat-out expansion of an economy with a very high level of arms expenditure (every five year plan absorbed several million more workers than it was intended to). This is shown by the way unemployment has existed in areas without great economic growth; for instance, a recent police census in the town of Ossetin revealed 7.5 per cent unemployment. [93a]

What is true is that fear of provoking a mass, spontaneous outburst of working-class anger prevented the bureaucracy in the post-Stalin period taking certain measures to make the economy more efficient, in particular from an all-round increase in price. Yet without this it could not stop an inefficient use of labour in many parts of the economy and an aggravation of labour shortages. And where there is a labour shortage, anywhere in the world system, there are degrees of collusion between managers and workers whose services they want to keep. Such collusion can mean some workers’ lives are slightly more tolerable than they might otherwise be, but it certainly does not do away with the reality of drudgery and exploitation. This is why, although Russian workers are very suspicious about perestroika, it is unlikely that many of them will identify with the conservative bureaucrats who have lived off them for so long.

In any case, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of Russian strikes. The regime has always kept a tight grip on information about them, even when it has ended them through making concessions. Typically it has sealed off areas affected by strikes while rushing in extra supplies of food to placate the workers involved. So it is that even the giant Novocherkassk strike in the Ukraine in the early 1960s was not known in the West until two or three years afterwards. There must have been very many smaller strikes never reported. The Novocherkassk strike took place after meat and dairy prices were doubled and there was a 30 per cent cut in piece rate in the Budenny electric train factory, involving all 20,000 workers. Police shot down demonstrators in the town square after they unfurled banners calling for the prices to return to normal. Dozens of people were killed. The strikes spread to fifteen other cities [94] and lasted for three days (1–3 June). This outburst of workers’ anger explains why food subsidies have been maintained in Russia until now. There has been more recent outrage over food price increases in Minsk where riots were reported after meat sold by cooperative stores increased in price in the summer of 1986.

A study by Ludmilla Alekseyeva records two strikes between 1953 and 1959, 17 for the 1960s, 25 in the 1970s, and 31 for the years 1980–83. But this does not necessarily reflect an upturn in strike activity but the increase in the numbers of samizdats that record them. [95]

The rise of Solidarnosc in Poland in 1980–81 exerted some influence over the western part of Russia, especially in the most militant early months. A report [96] told, ‘In the Trans-Carpathian region reservists deserted assembly points en masse. Mobilisation took two weeks to complete because of repeated desertions on such a scale it was impossible to punish individuals.’ According to Alekseyeva’s study there was a half-hour strike in Estonia in December 1980 called by an organisation called ‘the Democratic National Front of the Soviet Union’. The strike was over demands that included non-interference in the internal affairs of Poland. It reflected the influence of nationalistic emotions in many Russian strikes. A Swedish reporter asked a road crew which stopped work for half an hour why they did it. They said, ‘We’re Estonians’. (The Swede had been the only reporter allowed in by the authorities.) Because of the advance warning provided by the leaflet the authorities ensured that in several workplaces there was an extra coffee break at 10 o’clock, the time of the strike. Telephone links were cut off for the day and police reinforcements were brought in.

Solidarnosc was also responsible for the massive increase in coverage given by the Russian official press to trade union matters. The unions were often criticised for not representing the workers’ interests well enough. Since Gorbachev’s emphasis on glasnost, strikes have been mentioned in the press. The first strike to be mentioned in the official press seems to have been the one at Narva on 1 June 1983, reported in quite a lengthy article in Izvestia on 11 July. Both the management and workers were blamed, although the word strike was not used. Apparently the workers ‘had become spoiled’. This article appeared after Brezhnev’s death in 1982 and shows there had already been a slight shift in what could be published.

The biggest wave of strikes to occur in Gorbachev’s time began before the new quality control measures were introduced in 1987. An Izvestia article [97] reported ‘a wild demonstration’ at the Kama River diesel truck plant because production was rejected for poor quality. Several similar strikes followed as bonus payments were slashed when workers were penalised for the poor quality of the goods they produced. [98]

Bus drivers in Chekhov, 45 miles from Moscow, struck when their workload was increased because of perestroika in September 1987 [99], and there was a week-long protest by workers at the Yaroslav tractor engine plant against plans to make them work Saturdays in December. [100]

What next?

This article is being written before the special party conference in June which is supposed to decide the next step in reform. This issue of International Socialism probably won’t emerge from the printers until after the conference. This makes it impossible to comment on details of the infighting in the party leadership. But a few things can be said with a degree of certainty.

The reformers are very unlikely to achieve more than a small part of what they were hoping for a year ago. The power of resistance of the conservative wing of the bureaucracy was shown by the Sovietskaya Rossiya affair: for three weeks many reformers in the media assumed the other side were winning and ducked for cover. The reformers have since regained the initiative, but it is very unlikely that they have done so on a sufficient scale to flush out both the open opponents of perestroika and the very large section of the bureaucracy that mouths support for perestroika while hoping that it will go away. The Leningrad writer and Gorbachev supporter, Yuri Andreyev was probably right when he argued in Sovietskaya Kultura:

All previous experience practically guarantees that it would be the long standing party officials, the veteran members of party apparatus who will do everything they can to build an automatic majority of their kind of delegates to the party conference. [101]

Under these circumstances, although Gorbachev will probably be able to ward off any challenge to his own position from the conservative right, and might even be able to remove some of his most outspoken opponents, he will only be able to do so by allying with certain other conservative sections. That such an alliance is in the offing is suggested by a statement by foreign minister Shevardnadze that ‘as a member of the leadership I can say there are no differences between general secretary Gorbachev and Ligachev. There are no conflicts.’ [102] The result will then be fudge, which will tend to leave perestroika stuck in the bureaucratic mud. It should not be forgotten that the conservative right has quite a wide base of support. Its ideologies blend together bureaucratic self-interest, great Russian chauvinism and a backward looking resentment at the decay of Russian society. The legal monthly Molodaya Gvardiya (which prints 650,000 copies) combines Stalinophilia, racism (it attacks rock and roll ‘for borrowing words from negro slang with improper sexual implications’), great Russian chauvinism and support for ‘traditional values’ (denouncing ‘the destruction of the Russian family and nation by sex, alcohol and drugs’). [103] Such a brew can appeal not merely to old apparatchiks, but to sections of the intelligentsia, to Russians living in the non-Russian areas and even to some young people in the big cities (there have been reports of openly Nazi youth groups, and there was a vicious racist riot by hundreds of Russian youths against migrant Asian workers in a Moscow suburb in February, in which 10 people are said to have been killed). [104] At the same time, it can probably rely on the KGB chief Chebrikov (whose speeches are conservative and authoritarian in tone) and much of the armed forces command [105], a key force in enabling Khrushchev to defeat his opponents in the leadership in the late 1950s and Brezhnev to overthrow Khrushchev in 1964.

But the right faces one central problem. Even if such a base were to allow it to oust the reformers, it would not then be able to solve the country’s economic problems. For although Ligachev himself has a programme for economic rationalisation to be pushed through by authoritarian measures from the centre, the mass of conservative bureaucrats he would have to rely on to oust Gorbachev would sabotage that programme as surely as any other. That does not mean that a right coup against glasnost can be ruled out. It is one possibility built into the situation. But it would simply recreate the conditions of crisis that led to the adoption of perestroika in the first place. Like Jaruzelski’s coup in Poland, it might temporarily allow the authoritarians to take power back into their hands, but it would not stop the accumulation of economic difficulties and with them the growth of a mass of discontents that would, in one way or another, find expression. One of the people who looked to Jaruzelski for salvation in 1981 was the Polish deputy prime minister of the time, Mieczyslaw Rakowski. Recently promoted to Jaruzelski’s politburo, he admits the government has failed ‘to alleviate everyday shortages which make life miserable and which build dislike and even hatred towards the authorities ... He paints a picture of a leadership tired of struggling for seven years with little success to achieve an economic breakthrough and losing faith that this will ever be possible’. [106]

If neither wing of the bureaucracy can introduce decisive changes, then the economic stagnation and the general crisis of society will continue. That inevitably means an ideological crisis as the intellectuals lose faith in the ability of the bureaucracy to solve society’s problems, further rebellions by the oppressed nationalities, more outbreaks of communal rioting from the favoured nationalities, more strikes, and the ever-present possibility of a Solidarnosc-type upsurge of mass workers’ struggle. Against such a background, sections of the bureaucracy will be tempted to try to break the impasse by appealing for support on a much greater scale than hitherto to groups outside the bureaucracy altogether – by giving a massive, if temporary boost to glasnost from below – as the Czech leadership did in the spring of 1968. And that can lead the anti-reformers to contemplate counter-measures of their own, as the generals who supported the old Czech leader Novotny did early in 1968 when they drew up plans to move tanks into Prague and arrest a thousand opponents.

How rapid the tempo of development is depends upon a number of unknowns – the ability of the regime to extricate itself from the war it is losing in Afghanistan, the extent to which the American government helps it with its problems by allowing further arms deals, whether the reformers are right when they say the economic situation is absolutely dire [106a], how the crisis in Russia spills over into its client regimes in eastern Europe, above all, how tens of millions of workers and members of oppressed ethnic groups react.

The politics of the crisis

In left-wing circles in the West the present crisis in Russia is often presented in terms of whether you support Gorbachev or not. On the one hand there are those who see Gorbachev as the answer to humanity’s problems. [107] On the other there are those who focus on j the threat to workers’ jobs from restructuring and align themselves with the old ‘central planners’. Both approaches rest on a complete misreading of events and possibilities. The crisis in Russia is part of a more general crisis of the state capitalist model of accumulation. That model arose in one form or another right across the world as a response to economic crisis in the inter-war years, and was often misleadingly identified as ‘socialism’ by both social democrats and Stalinists. [108] But by the mid-1970s the internationaliation of economic production meant that the intervention of the national state could no longer ward off crisis or prevent a slide into economic stagnation. The model fell into disfavour. Seen in this light, the crisis in Russia and eastern Europe parallels the crisis of Keynesian-ism in advanced Western countries and of import-substitutionist and populist models of development in the third world.

Socialists cannot be identified with those who imagine the model can be made to work now. Not only does trying to do so stunt the development of the productive forces and ensure economic stagnation and escalating human want, but the model was never our model in the first place. Keynesianism was the programme of a wealthy bourgeois liberal seeking an alternative to socialist revolution and was only implemented on the basis of continual war preparations; Stalinist state capitalism grew up on the bones of the revolutionary left oppositionists who stood by the vision of 1917, and entailed massive impoverishment of workers and peasants. To identify with the anti-reform wing of the bureaucracy in Russia at the moment would be to identify with conservative, racist, authoritarian bigots whose attempts to freeze the development of social forces can only lead to an aggravation of all the problems facing Russian workers. It would be to line up with those people whose police, secret police and armed forces have been used to smash every attempt by workers in the Russian bloc to organise independently for the last 60 years. But there cannot be any identification with Gorbachev either. For he stands for a reform of this model of exploitation and accumulation, not in order to lighten its burden on workers, but to make it more efficient. And, in present circumstances, that does mean speed-up, wage cuts and, probably, unemployment. Nor is he proposing to dismantle the machinery of repression. He may partially suspend the censorship for a period to allow intellectuals to attack his enemies in the party leadership, but all past experiences suggest he will reimpose it once he has the levers of control in his own hands; remember, it was the ‘reformer’ Khrushchev who sent the tanks in to murder 20,000 Hungarian workers, and it was the ‘reformer’ Gomulka who unleashed riot police against students in March 1968 and workers in December 1970.

What is more, there is no guarantee that Gorbachev’s programme of reforms can deliver the goods, even in his own terms. The failure of state capitalist centralisation of the economy has led economists throughout eastern Europe to embrace the market as a magic answer to their problems. But the two east European economies – Yugoslavia and Hungary – where so-called ‘market socialism’ has been introduced are in no better shape than the Russian economy. Both are suffering from industrial stagnation, high levels of inflation, and big foreign debts. Both have been attempting to impose wage cuts and unemployment on their workers. In China, where conditions have been more favourable for reform than in Russia (because industry is a much smaller section of the total economy and because it has been able radically to reduce the arms burden [109]) the level of inflation and food shortages in the towns has led the regime to fear the sudden growth of Solidarnosc-type protests. The reason is that reform cannot deal with the root cause of the eastern states’ economic failings. These lie in the way the ruling bureaucracy subordinates the whole economy to military and economic competition with the West (and, in Russia’s case, with China). This compels a level of accumulation that cannot be sustained by the available resources. And this, in turn, leads the mass of the population, the workers and collective farmers, to such a deep alienation from their own work activity as not to care about the quality of their output.

Reliance on the market involves believing that enterprises that are inefficient will go out of business, leaving room for efficient enterprises to grow. But, in fact, this rarely happens in the ‘free market’ West. The units of modern capitalism are so large that simply to leave them to the fate of market forces threatens devastation to whole areas of the economy and to the profitable firms within it. As a result, the state has almost invariably stepped in when major firms have faced bankruptcy, even under ‘anti-interventionist’ governments like Thatcher’s and Reagan’s. Under such conditions inefficient firms are run down, if at all, over many years, not immediately. And the sources of waste and inefficiency in the economy continue to proliferate.

The Russian economy is half the size of its major competitor, the United States. But it has to match it in the size of the individual units of production. The result is that the concentration of production is proportionately higher, and the impact of particular cases of inefficiency and waste that much greater. It is no answer to these problems, however, simply to let the market drive those units out of business, since this would cause such immense devastation as to threaten the competitiveness of the whole economy.

Since the mid-1970s signs of crisis have been multiplying East and West, The rate of profit has declined (as Aganbegyan writes in the early 1980s, ‘the rate of return on capital fell’ [110]). Conditions worldwide do not allow restructuring on a sufficient scale to more than partially restore it. Hence the continuing weaknesses in the Western economies 14 years after the crisis first erupted; hence the latest estimates of growth for Russia, which suggest that despite all of Gorbachev’s huffing and puffing, growth last year was only about 1 half a per cent, as against 3.9 per cent in 1986. [111]

In 1859 Marx wrote that ‘from forms of development of the productive forces’ old ‘relations of production turn into fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution’. [112] The relations of production established by Stalinist state capitalism 60 years ago have clearly become such fetters. That is why someone who will fight to the last in defence of the system, like the Polish politburo member Rakowski, can now warn that without reform, ‘our formation will see upheavals and revolutionary outbursts’. [113]

The task of socialists in such a situation is not to identify with those who want to patch up the system. Rather it is to insist that the source of the inefficiency and waste lies in the fact that the labour which feeds the system is alienated labour, torn away from control of those who perform it and subject to the dictates of competitive accumulation on a world scale. It is this that leads, East and West, to the massive production of goods that people do not need, to the transformation of human productivity into weaponry for destroying humanity, to massive and expensive bureaucracies to supervise exploitation, and to enormous waste as the immediate producers show no concern for the cost or quality of production. The radical reformers claim that only allowing individual enterprises to compete with each other and the world market will force them to adopt prices that correspond to the most efficient ways of producing. The implication is that workers who do not work in the efficient enterprises will be thrown on the scrap heap. This is to respond to the inefficiency created by the system of alienated labour by raising alienation to a higher degree. There is a much more efficient, and much less painful, way of dealing with the sources of waste and inefficiency. It is for the workers, ‘the associated producers’, to take control of production into their own hands, and to subordinate it to their own consciously assessed collective needs. Only then will those who actually perform labour of one sort or another have a motive for a correct and honest assessment of the amount of their own labour available for production, and an incentive to use it in the most efficient and least arduous fashion possible.

The only alternatives are not the centrally administered anarchy of state capitalist accumulation and the decentralised anarchy of the ‘market’. There is also the alternative of genuine socialism, of what has sometimes been described during periods of working-class insurgency in eastern Europe as the ‘socially self managed economy’. There are few adherents of such ideas in Russia and eastern Europe at the moment. This is not surprising. The revolutionary socialist opponents of Stalinism were always the ones to face the toughest repression. A fair number of people with liberal and right-wing ideas survived the Stalinist labour camps; virtually the whole of the left opposition were murdered. The new generation of dissidents in Russia and eastern Europe have to come to political activity at a time when the social democratic model of an economy planned along Keynesian lines is as much in disrepute in the West as is the Stalinist model in the East. Not surprisingly, they are subject to the influence of ideas that hold that the future lies with the market.

Yet this is not a situation which is likely to endure for long. The pursuit of glasnost from above has opened up a political space in which there is some room for activity by those who stand for glasnost from below. And however popular the idea of raising prices and sacking workers might be with privileged sections of the Moscow intelligentsia, it is not one that is going to appeal to any sections of workers who move into activity. Some of the individuals involved in the glasnost from below ferment are going to be drawn into trying to deal with such issues from a working-class point of view. In the process they can begin to work towards genuinely revolutionary ideas – cutting through 60 years of Stalinist garbage and arriving at an appreciation of what Marxism is really about.

Forty years ago, in the first edition of his account of state capitalism in Russia, Tony Cliff pointed to the impossibility of building even the beginnings of a revolutionary Marxist organisation in conditions of Stalinist totalitarianism. As in a capitalist army, he explained, the sheer scale of repression ruled out anything other than mass, spontaneous outbursts of revolt.

The class struggle in Stalinist Russia must inevitably express itself in gigantic, spontaneous outbursts of millions. Until then the omnipotent sway of the secret police will make it impossible for a revolutionary party to organise any systematic action whatsoever.

Today, for the first time since that was written, the possibilities of a rebirth of revolutionary Marxism in the land of the October revolution exist once more. The bitter infighting between rival factions of the ruling class is beginning to create conditions, not only in Russia, but right across eastern Europe, in which a few individuals can come to revolutionary socialist politics and begin to find ways of putting their ideas across. Life will not be easy for them. But Poland in 1980-81 and Armenia this year both show how the crisis of bureaucratic state capitalism can suddenly provide a mass audience for previously isolated groups of dissidents. We have to hope that when the big workers’ struggles take place in Russia, these groups include socialists.

Russia is entering a period of immense crisis. This period will not be one simply of ascending struggles. There will be all sorts of diversions and defeats (as there was a major defeat in Poland in 1981). Nor will revolutionary socialist ideas be the only ones looking for a mass following. There will be the pro-market ideas which will try to bind workers to restructuring, there will be the nationalisms of the non-Russians, serving both to focus hatred on the central state but also to line workers up with local bureaucrats, there will be the ideas of the great Russian chauvinists, there will be the communalisms that set one oppressed nationality against another. The accumulation of frustrations and oppression in Russia can be such as to produce a very messy series of explosions.

In this situation those who stand for revolutionary socialism will have to fight to defend their own right to express their ideas – which means, in practice fighting for glasnost from below, supporting those intellectuals who fight for freedom of expression and supporting the struggles of the oppressed nationalities against the state and the great Russian chauvinists. But they will also have to fight very hard against the ideas put out by many of those who also back glasnost from below – against the belief in the market, against the belief that the bureaucracy’s party can be reformed, against those nationalists who opposed united action between Russian and non-Russian workers, against every illusion that leads people to call off struggles for fear of embarrassing reforming leaders.

The system of bureaucratic state capitalism established by Stalin is in crisis right across eastern Europe. The job of socialists is not to identify with those who want reforms in order to hold it together, but to take advantage of the crisis to fight for real workers’ power.


1. N. Ryzhkov, Report on draft guidelines for economic and social development, given to 27th congress of CPSU, March 1986.

2. Pravda, 5 April 1988.

3. There are various accounts of this affair. See for example, C. Schmidt-Hauer, Gorbachev, the path to power (London 1986), pp. 72–3.

4. Speech by Gorbachev, quoted Financial Times, 12 June 1986.

5. Figures by E. Rusanov show that while in the early 1950s a 0.3 per cent increase in wages produced a 1 per cent increase in productivity, by the late 1970s it took a 0.9 per cent increase in wages to do so. Quoted in Goldman, Gorbachev’s Challenge (Ontario 1987), p. 23.

6. Economist, 9 April 1988.

7. US Congress, Joint Economic Committee, USSR: Measures of Economic Growth (Washington 1982).

8. Figures given in Goldman, Gorbachev’s Challenge (Ontario 1987), pp. 32–3.

9. Figures from Narodnoe khoziaistvo SSSR, various years, quoted in Mike Haynes, Understanding the Soviet crisis, International Socialism 2:34, p. 18.

10. Figures given by K. Fitzlyon, Soviet Studies, Summer 1969.

11. According to estimates by W.D. Connor, Problems of Communism, March/April 1973.

12. According to the US estimates quoted above.

13. Figures from Narodnoe khoziaistvo SSSR, quoted in Goldman, p. 66.

14. Ryzhkin, as above.

15. Aganbegyan, The Challenge, the Economics of Perestroika (London 1988).

16. Pravda, 5 April 1988.

17. E. Germain (Ernest Mandel) in Quatrième International, 14 (1956), nos. 1–3.

18. M. Reiman, The Birth of Stalinism (London, 1987), p. 86.

19. Reiman, p. 89.

20. Russia, a Marxist Analysis (London 1964).

21. J.D. Godfrey, Capitalism at War: Industrial Policy in France, 1914–18 (Leamington Spa 1987).

22. In Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism.

23. Interestingly, one of the Czechoslovak economic reformers referred to this instance in the run up to 1968.

24. See A. Negandhi and M. Welge, Beyond Theory Z: Global Rationalization Strategies of American, German and Japanese Multinational Companies, Advances in International Comparative Management, Supplement 1 (London 1984).

25. H. Liebenstein, Allocative Inefficiency v. “x-inefficiency”, American Economic Review, June 1960.

26. S.M. Davis, Managing and Organising in Multinational Corporations (Oxford 1979).

27. This happened, for instance, when the board of Read International – then owners of the Daily Mirror> – removed Cecil King as company chairman in the late 1960s.

28. Perestroika (London 1987).

29. F. Halliday in Marxism Today, November 1987.

30. M. Matthews has shown that ‘elective’ posts in primary party organisations are overwhelmingly in the hands of ‘employees’ (as opposed to ‘workers’ and ‘peasants’). See Class and Society in Soviet Russia (London 1972).

31. For one defence of this early attempt at perestroika, see I. Nagy, Imre Nagy on Communism (London 1957).

32. Z. Medvedev, Gorbachev (London 1986).

33. C. Harman, Prospects for the seventies: The Stalinist states, International Socialism 1:42, p. 17.

33a. Z. Medvedev, Gorbachev, op. cit.

34. Moscow television programme, summarised in BBC monitoring report, SU/0118 i, 6 April 1988.

35. Pravda, 12 December 1974 and 22 August 1985, quoted in Goldman, p. 23.

36. Quoted in Goldman, p. 30.

37. S. Roberts in Labour Focus on Eastern Europe July/October 1987, pp. 13–14.

38. Perestroika, p. 74.

39. T. Gustafson and D. Mann, Gorbachev’s Gamble, Problems of Communism, July/August 1987.

40. Pravda, 17 April 1987.

41. Text in Radio Liberty Reports, 8 June 1987.

42. This account is based upon various sources, including the Guardian, 12 November 1987, and A. Barnett, Soviet Freedom (London 1988), pp. 174–7.

43. Report by Razumovsky on the progress of the campaign, quoted in Radio Liberty Research, 27 January 1988.

44. N. Bodnaruk, Izvestia, 10 April 1988.

45. Komsomolskaya Pravda, quoted in Guardian, 22 April 1988.

46. As above.

47. All quotes from Pravda, 5 April 1988.

48. All quotes from Sovietskaya Kultura, 9 April 1988.

48a. Extract of broadcast, BBC television news, 26 April 1988.

49. Izvestia, 13 April 1988.

50. Restructuring Questionnaire, programme, mailbox report presented by Ali Gueseynov, 8 April 1988, BBC monitoring report Su/0127 b3.

51. Television discussion of 17 April; a summary of this appears in BBC monitoring service transcript SU/0129 i, 19 April 1988.

52. Summarised in BBC monitoring report SU/0118 i, 6 April 1988.

53. According to the Guardian, 28 December 1987.

54. According to G. Pavlovsky, Moscow News, 13 September 1987.

55. Radio Liberty Research, 27 January 1988.

56. Radio Liberty Research, 31 January 1988.

57. Radio Liberty Research, 8 February 1988.

58. E. Pavlenko, Novosty Press Agency report, LFEE, p. 16.

59. A. Severyukhin from the Austrian magazine Profit, quoted in LFEE, November 1987–February 1988, p. 6.

60. On page 119 of his book Perestroika.

61. Perestroika, p. 112.

62. Vestnik Statistiki, February 1986.

63. Literaturna Ukraina, Kiev, 9 April 1987, translated in Radio Liberty Research, 15 April 1987.

64. The nationality issue in Kirghizia, Radio Liberty Research, 29 January 1988.

65. For a summary account of this, see E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. ; for a summary of the argument in the Ukraine, see the introduction to C. Rakovsky, Selected Writings on Opposition in the USSR 1923–30.

66. See M. Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle.

67. See C. Rakovsky, Selected Writings, ibid.

68. Details are given in T. Cliff, Russia: A Marxist Analysis (London n.d., 1964), pp. 327–33.

69. Cliff, pp. 229–31.

70. Literaturna Ukraina, as above.

71. Literaturna un Maksla, 1 May 1987.

72. Pravda, 19 May 1987.

73. Tajikistan-i Sovieti, 14 February 1987.

74. Radio Liberty Research, 18 and 31 January 1988.

75. Report in Le Monde, 2 April 1988; see also summary of criticism of the society’s analysis in Literaturuli Sakartvelo, 8 January 1988 in BBC monitoring service report, SU/0129  i, 19 April 1988.

76. Interview with I. Muradian, an activist in the group, International Herald Tribune, 12–13 March 1988.

77. Sovietskaya Kultura, July 1987, quoted in Radio Liberty Reports, 3 February 1988.

78. According to reports from travellers to foreign correspondents in Moscow, see Financial Times, 26 February 1988.

79. Quoted in Guardian, 27 February 1988.

80. International Herald Tribune, as above.

81. See, for instance, Guardian, 26 February 1988.

82. Independent, 27 February 1988.

83. TASS report, in Independent>, 5 March 1988.

84. Independent, 3 April 1988.

85. See the reports in the Independent, 31 March 1988.

86. Izvestia, 6 April 1988, text in BBC monitoring report SU/0119 b/6, 7 April 1988.

87. Law on State Enterprise Associations, Izvestia, 1 July 1987.

88. Law on Enterprise Associations, ibid.

89. Details in Pravda, 15 February 1987.

90. Pravda, 9 January 1987.

91. LFEE, p. 20, November 1987–February 1988, vol. 9, no. 3.

92. F. Furedi, The Soviet Union Demystified (London 1986).

93. Many are referred to in Reiman, as above, and J. Berger, Shipwreck of a Generation (London 1971), p. 90 refers to more large strikes in 1931.

93a. Reported in Guardian, 10 June 1987.

94. According to an ex-journalist for Izvestia and Literaturnaya Gazeta, V. Belotserkovsky, who left the USSR in 1972 – see Samupravlenie (Self-management), available from A. Neimanas-Buchvertrieb, Baur Str. 28, 8000 Munich 40, West Germany AFN 91.

95. Zabastovky v SSSR – Poslestalinsky period (Strikes in the USSR post-Stalin period), Vnutrene Protivorechiya v SSSR (Internal Contradictions in the USSR), no. 15, New York 1986. Ludmilla Alekseyeva was a leading activist in the democratic movement of the 1960s and a founder member of the Helsinki group in Moscow in 1976. She left in the next year. Her study is based on samizdat and the official press.

96. Financial Times, 13 February 1981.

97. 4 December 1986.

98. TASS, 27 January 1987.

99. See the account in Moscow News, 20 September 1987.

100. Izvestia, 26 December 1987.

101. Guardian, 22 April 1988.

102. Guardian, 23 April 1988.

103. Molodaya Gvardiya, 1987, no. 3.

104. According to Lev Timofeev of the unofficial press club Glasnost, the Independent, 5 March 1988; see also Sunday Telegraph, 6 March 1988.

105. These supported the initial Gorbachev-Ligachev call for perestroika in 1985 because they could see that the military was suffering from the general economic stagnation; but possible growth of resistance since is indicated by the fact that Gorbachev used the Rust affair as an excuse for replacing Marshal Sokolov by General Yazov as defence minister.

106. Summary of 60-page paper by Rakowski, Financial Times, 12 April 1988.

106a. The reformers may well be exaggerating the scale of the economic crisis to win political arguments – this happened in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Only time will let us know what the real economic situation is. See, for example, I. Birman, The Soviet economy: an alternative view, Russia (12), 1986, and S. Rosenfelde, The Soviet Union in Crisis, Soviet Studies, April 1988.

107. Two examples will suffice to show the ridiculous illusions that have been created in Gorbachev in recent months. Tariq Ali said in his book on 1968 (Street Fighting Years, London 1987, p. 268), ‘An even more powerful spectre is beginning to haunt the European powers. Its name is Mikhail Gorbachev.’ Ken Livingstone at a Brent East Labour Party xmas social offered a bottle of Bulgarian wine as a prize in a raffle, claiming it was ‘one of ours’; the second prize was a portrait of Gorbachev! (Thanks to Anne Drinkle.)

108. See, for instance, the famous book by the founders of Fabianism, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, The Soviet Union: A new civilisation.

109. For a useful account, from a pro-reform viewpoint, of the greater problems facing reform in Russia than in China, see Goldman, pp. 175–222.

110. Aganbegyan, p. 3.

111. CIA estimates to US Congress Joint Economic Committee, in Wall Street Journal, 25 April 1988.

112. Preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

113. Quoted in Financial Times, 12 April 1988.

Last updated on 1.3.2012