Developments in Eastern Europe and Prospects for Worker-socialism

The present events in the East will be looked upon in the future as a mere prelude to far more significant developments in the world as a whole.

Question: The developments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union have seized the attention of the whole world. We do indeed live in a decisive historical period. However, the impact of these events on the West and the main body of the capitalist world remains unexplored. How, in your view, will these developments affect the 'victorious' West?

Mansoor Hekmat: The immediate results of this process will naturally be felt first by the people in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. But what makes the '90s a crucial historical period is in my view the subsequent international results of this process and its impact on the Western world. The present events in the East will be looked upon in the future as a mere prelude to far more significant developments in the world as a whole.

The salient fact behind all this political and ideological turmoil is the economic collapse of the state-capitalist model and the triumph over it of market capitalism. All the discussion and commentary by the Western media, echoed in the public opinion, about the 'end of communism' and the victory of democracy and the West, are but the modes and forms of referring to the same economic reality. But when you look at it closely, you see that it is in fact the West and the so- called victorious bloc that is thrown into a turbulent and critical period in its history. The prospects facing the defeated bloc are more or less defined. It has to emulate the West's past. But it is the present and future of the victorious bloc that is now, with the events in Eastern Europe, wrapped up in contradictions and uncertainties. The collapse of the Eastern bloc poses serious questions for the political economy and the ideological set-up in the West and gives rise, for their resolution, to massive social confrontations.

Question: What contradictions and uncertainties?

Mansoor Hekmat: In economics, politics and ideology. At all levels. The fact is that, particularly throughout the post-war period, the economic, political and intellectual life of the West had been shaped by a global confrontation between the two blocs. We can see the mark of this confrontation not just on the military and political alignments of states, but on the whole organisation of production in the Western world, in its strategy and patterns of growth and development, and in its whole intellectual and conceptual frame of thought. Today it is not just NATO that is rendered useless with the virtual elimination of the Warsaw Pact. It is not just the plan for the 1992 integration of the European market that has to be totally revised with the westernisation of Eastern Europe and the German re-unification. The whole profile of Western society must be redefined. The whole global economic set-up, which has assigned the position of the various countries and social classes for decades, must be defined anew with the full integration of the world capitalist market. These questions are open again and draw social forces, each with is own solutions, to an intense struggle.

The most conspicuous expression of this confusion concerns democracy itself, both as a system of political thought and as a form of government in bourgeois society. We are told that democracy has triumphed. Which democracy are they talking about? The naive notions that crowd the minds of pious professors and ex-radicals and which are seen by them as the last word on human liberation, or the practical, real and well-articulated democracy that has been the official ruling ideology in the West and provided the intellectual and propaganda framework for the 'Free World'? The democracy of Hiroshima, the Cold War, genocide in Vietnam, CIA coups and military juntas, racism and union-busting. The democracy of Thatcher, Reagan, The Times and The Economist. This is the real democracy that has ruled the world. This is precisely the banner under which the West articulated and organised itself in the competition for world domination with the opposite bloc. To the extent that this competition is eliminated, this ideological framework itself becomes redundant and the West suffers confusion and division. The events in Eastern Europe initiate an era of fierce political and ideological struggles in the West for reshaping an official and dominant ideological framework for contemporary capitalism.

In short, the world is entering a turbulent period which has its main source of instability not in the East but in the West itself, which will in turn make the present assumptions of the Western media about the future of Eastern Europe obsolete and irrelevant.

Question: In what way does this situation affect the working class movement?

Mansoor Hekmat: I think the '90s will be a decade of intensified worker protest movements, for a number of reasons. First, for more than a decade the offensive of the New Right, Thatcherism and Reaganomics, has pressurised the working class. Part and parcel of this offensive was the suppression of trade unions. This in turn was made possible with the crisis of social democracy and the political and ideological supremacy of new conservatism. Today the destructive results of these policies for the workers - unemployment, loss of social services, etc. - are felt more than ever while the ideological and political cohesion of the Right is lost. In the whole of Europe questions such as unemployment and lack of job security, working week and so on are becoming a focus for a renewed surge of workers' movement, while the bourgeoisie is losing its capacity for the political intimidation of the workers' movement and populist mobilisation of the middle strata against our class. Secondly, the decline of unionism, while having immediate detrimental effects on the life of millions of workers, has created an environment for new thinking and alternative practices in worker organisation in Europe. The workers' movement has already moved towards more radical actions organised outside the traditional union structure, campaigns for 'democratisation of unions' or creating alternative organisations are spreading. This helps the emergence of movements that are more radical and are able to deal with urgent class issues. Finally, a very important point is that with the recent developments workers are bound to grasp their specific class identity. While everybody is joining the feast in honour of democracy, the East German and Polish worker, the Russian worker in Lithuania and Estonia, is just beginning to realise that he himself is being barbecued and served as the main course. The West European worker is realising that behind all this razzmatazz about democracy and human rights, it is the worker and worker alone who should take care of his economic interests and political rights, without hoping for anything to come from the intelligentsia who fill social democratic parliamentary seats or professional union posts. The fact that non-working class strata and their movements are trampling on each other's feet in their race to dissociate themselves from the worker and worker ideals, forces the worker today to think about his and her specific class identity. I think the '90s will find the worker in a totally different political pose.

Question: What about Marxism? How do you see its prospects?

Mansoor Hekmat: It is only now that Marxism, as a working class outlook for social change can come to the fore. It is only now that the worker is being freed from a host of quasi-Marxisms of the propertied classes. I am aware that this has not been achieved through a theoretical and practical offensive by worker-Marxism and worker-socialism, but has come about by the collapse of the quasi- socialist poles under pressure from other sections of the bourgeoisie itself. I am also aware that the present situation circumscribes socialism and socialist thought in general. But anti-socialist pressures will prove short-lived. Capitalism by nature gives rise to worker-socialism and Marxism. As long as there is worker and capitalist, there also is Marxism. But this time this Marxism has rid itself of all the currents that have pursued non-worker interests in its name. As a Marxist, as an activist of worker-socialism, I personally feel that the way forward is more open. Besides, if society as a whole is going to re-think its foundations; if the '90s are to be the decade of struggle between social outlooks and if the bourgeoisie is heading for an ideological vacuum - all of which are characteristics of the '90s - then Marxism as a valid critique and outlook will once again come to the fore in society.

Question: Nationalist movements in the Soviet Union are on the rise. How do you think they will fare? What kind of response will they get internationally?

Mansoor Hekmat: One of the social currents unleashed by the demise of the Eastern bloc is nationalism. Nationalism has long been a pampered social movement in bourgeois society. It seems very 'natural' and respectable to be a nationalist in this society. Everybody is worshipping his own national flag and no one has ever been reproached for this blatant departure from the universal and international identity of humanity. Nationalism today, apart from a few cases, is no longer even related to nation al oppression. For the most part it is derived from earthly economic considerations of the local bourgeoisie about the prospects for regional economic development. No wonder we see that the honourable nationalist in Lithuania and Estonia begins his campaign by stripping the Russian worker of his basic political rights. In my view nationalism does not aim at ending national oppression. It merely strives to re-define the oppressed and oppressor nations.

As for the future of these movements, I think with the economic integration of the capitalist world and in view of the fact that the bourgeoisie is not at present thinking in terms of small national units but rather new international blocs, nationalism will not find a very encouraging environment within the capitalist class. Some may gain independence and some may not. But nationalism and the cause of political independence will not become a fashionable subject for the capitalist world.

Question: How do you see the repercussions of the world situation on the Iranian situation? Many opposition parties are hoping that it would lead to the emergence of a parliamentary democracy in Iran.

Mansoor Hekmat: The Iranian liberal opposition, with their new recruits from the previously pro-Soviet parties, are used to this approach to politics. Yesterday it was the election of Kennedy or Carter that was to bring them their parliament. They are still waiting! They do not understand that politics in a society is conditioned by the struggle of material, real social forces and not by sentimental formulations such as the 'era of the end of dictatorships'. 'Dictatorship' must be overthrown by real forces. Such formulations are produced by the middle classes and intellectuals in Europe as naive and subjective descriptions of much more objective processes. It is not as though the gods have set out to topple dictatorships one after the other. Besides, the Iranian liberal forgets that the unofficial and academic democracy in Europe that produces such formulations for mass consumption is extremely Eurocentric. As far as the countries outside Europe are concerned, especially those in which people are not so well off, a mock election would suffice for them. The official ruling class democracy, for its part, which used the term democracy to characterise any kind of political regime outside the rival bloc, will not give our liberal his democracy. If it were so, then it would not have turned the world into a world of military juntas, police states and military interventionism for decades.

What can be said is that the position of Iran and the Islamic current is now objectively changed for international capital. With the elimination of the Eastern bloc, Iran may not have the same strategic significance as before and Pan- Islamism, with the idea of a green belt around the Soviet Union becoming redundant, may not be as much in demand. Post-war economic reconstruction of Iran must also wait its turn until the restructuring of the economies of Eastern Europe gets moving. All this may mean more pressure on the Islamic regime in Iran. However, whether or not the situation would result in parliamentary democracy, or new kinds of bourgeois despotism, or the victory of workers' revolutionary alternative, is something that real social forces will determine. I personally think that whoever wants political freedom must look to no one but the working class. The bourgeoisie, Iranian or other wise, has proved that it cannot prosper in a country like Iran without suppressing the political rights of millions.

First Published: Worker Today No.1, May 1990
Source: Worker-Communist Party of Iran
Translated: Mansoor Hekmat
Transcription/Markup: Worker-Communist Party of Iran/Brian Baggins
Copyleft: Hekmat Internet Archive ( 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.