The USSR and the oppressed nations

Three steps leading to the current crisis

By Sam Marcy (Sept. 26, 1991)

Every worker who has ever opened the Communist Manifesto knows its central slogan is "Workers of the world unite — you have nothing to lose but your chains."

Less well known, however, is the so-called "amendment" Lenin added in one of the early Communist Party congresses of the USSR. He expanded the slogan to "Workers and oppressed peoples of the world unite." It was not a chance thought.

Beginning with the split with the Mensheviks in 1903, and during all the years of clandestine organization at home and exile abroad, Lenin fought against all sorts of deviations from support for national self-determination. The party fought the cultural nationalists, the assimilationists, and those who were openly against self-determination.

In no small way the victories in the Bolshevik Revolution itself, the Civil War, the struggle against the 14 invading imperialist powers, and finally the defeat of the Nazis were due to a correct and implacable struggle to retain the right of self-determination while struggling might and main for a class struggle policy to unify the workers of all nationalities in the struggle against counterrevolutionary bourgeois reaction at home and imperialism abroad.

It will do no good to engage in idle speculation on what new form of struggle will emerge against the present bourgeois restorationist governing group without first taking into account the basis for its current though ephemeral victory.

A neocolonialist government

The present grouping is a camarilla, an arbitrary grouping that grabbed the reins of power after the ill-fated Aug. 19 coup in a time of deepening social crisis and political confusion. The present governing group is not only bourgeois in social composition, it is neocolonialist in its world perspective.

It is acting as a surrogate for Anglo-U.S. imperialism and is, at least for now, bound hand and foot to its foreign policy. How long it can last is another question. But its neocolonialist character is absolutely beyond question.

One need only refer to the latest dictates of U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, as reported in the New York Times of Sept. 16.

What could be more crass, more humiliating, more decisive for the destiny of the country than that the U.S. government is now demanding an accounting of the USSR's gold reserves? Since time immemorial, this information has been considered the most sensitive issue between governments.

Furthermore, Baker went so far as to personally meet with the head of the KGB and attempt to enlist his support in ferreting out the extent of the gold reserves of the USSR. Presumably such information is now spread over several ministries. As the Times explains it, "Baker asked for a small favor. Would the KGB, Mr. Baker asked, please help the leaders of the new Soviet economic council locate and total up all Soviet gold reserves so they could prepare an economic reform plan that the West could seriously respond to?"

This means the U.S. is probably demanding an accounting of the weekly gold production of the USSR, the precise locations of the mines, which are the most productive, which are yet untapped, which are on the point of exhaustion, and so on.

This can only happen because a counterrevolution has taken place in the USSR, headed by a camarilla of leaders who are bent on complete collaboration with and subordination to the interests of U.S. imperialism.

It can't be described in any other way.

Turnaround on centralism

The very same article reported that "Baker has also said no economic help is going to be feasible if the republics do not work out a coherent economic arrangement with a central decision-making body that can enforce business contracts and laws."

How often over the past six years have the imperialists poured effusive praise on Gorbachev's economic reforms, especially the heavy emphasis he laid on decentralizing not only the governmental apparatus but the economy?

In fact, the formula adopted by the petty bourgeoisie in the U.S. — "smaller is better" — has been a reactionary utopia viewed with scorn by the monopolists. Nevertheless, it is propagated as a cardinal point of faith in the free enterprise system, mainly to confuse and disorient the masses.

This idea was dished out to the USSR over a period of years and finally became a believable concept, something to look forward to, something the Americans brought as a contribution to the Soviet economy. As soon as it was applied, however, it led to an avalanche of centrifugal forces that began to pull the union of republics in every different direction.

And what do we find now? That the Bush-Baker-Cheney-Powell group representing U.S. monopoly finance capital and the military-industrial complex have suddenly done a complete turnaround.

They are now for centralism, lock, stock and barrel. Why this volte-face? Precisely because they now feel they have the threads of the Soviet economy in their hands, that is, in the hands of the reactionary camarilla that runs the USSR, or is at least regarded by the imperialists as the actual governing body of the country.

Now that the monopolist bourgeoisie of the U.S., through their minions in the reactionary camarilla, feel they have the economy in their hands, they wish to impose upon it reactionary centralized control. So the issue has really not been centralization of industry per se. The issue all along was centralization on the basis of socialist construction versus centralization on the basis of capitalist dismantling of socialist industry.

What lay behind the issue of centralization was not democracy, but which class was to organize and centralize the means of production in the USSR, which class would have the power to rescue the USSR from the chaos, confusion and deliberate sabotage inflicted upon the economy as a result of the capitalist reforms enacted by the Gorbachev administration.

Capitalist centralization means the accumulation of vast funds in the hands of private individuals for private profit. Socialist centralization, on the other hand, presupposes the accumulation in the hands of the state of whatever surplus exists after wages, wear and tear, depreciation, raw materials and so on are accounted for. It can then be used to provide necessary services and expand socialist production in accordance with an up-to-date plan, as Marx explained in his "Critique of the Gotha Program."

These two types of centralization differ as heaven from earth. The centralization of the bourgeoisie is calculated to enrich the individual investor, entrepreneur or company executive. By its very nature it is divisive, contradictory, antagonistic.

Coming up now in the Soviet Union, with the blessings of imperialism, its overall thrust is to shove the burden of the restructuring on the backs of the workers. It is in fact nothing but the same austerity program that the U.S. monopolists have been pursuing for more than a dozen years, with devastating effects on the working class.

How long will it take for broad Soviet public opinion to get the measure of the situation and disabuse themselves of the bourgeois reformist claptrap and demagogy? That is one of the crucial issues we hope to deal with.

U.S. wants control of ruble

Considering the desperate condition in which the reactionary governing grouping now finds itself, the U.S. leaders are bound to ask for control of the banking system and, more particularly, of the technology to print Soviet money. This is even more delicate than getting control of the secret gold reserves.

It is well known that the U.S. imperialists have demanded of newly emerging, small, independent countries that they install technology of the most advanced type to produce their currency. The less industrialized countries cannot manufacture these machines themselves. They simply do not have the technological wherewithal to build the machines that produce the special papers and engraving equipment needed to print their own currency. Therefore, the task is controlled by the U.S. Treasury itself. In that way, they are able to keep tabs on the amount of currency that gets printed and have a general idea of the rate of inflation.

Is it possible that the mighty USSR is now in such dire circumstances that the new governing group of reactionary neocolonialists will agree to that?

Again and again, the U.S. team of economic and financial advisers have referred to the need for getting a handle on the rate of inflation in the USSR. They have made it a prior condition before the ruble can be converted into dollars. Thus, they are dictating the terms of the relationship to the new governing camarilla.

The very fact that Secretary of State Baker, whose counterpart in the USSR is Foreign Minister Boris D. Pankin, has been meeting not with Pankin but with the KGB demonstrates that Baker regards the KGB as having more authority.

The program of the Pentagon, as described in the Sept. 16 New York Times, is to search for ways "to aid the Soviet military" by "considering giving technical and organizational help to Moscow's armed forces and those of the newly independent Baltic countries."

Take all these things together and you have nothing less than a blueprint for the domination of the basic elements of state craft in the USSR — the economic levers and the military establishment.

How could even a neocolonialist, reactionary grouping such as this camarilla lend itself to such sordid purposes? The answer lies in the very desperate condition that the country finds itself in and the even more desperate promises that all of them have made to the population, to the workers in particular.

Washington changes mind on aid

The situation has become so urgent for the survival of this camarilla that the Bush administration says it is abandoning its old demand that economic reforms precede the granting of immediate economic assistance. Instead, it will begin speedy distribution of aid — urgently needed foodstuffs and other materials — in order to cushion the expected economic collapse, particularly in the coming winter.

The advanced guard elements, the real communists, those who have believed they were working toward a socialist society, are now seeing before their very eyes the swift destruction of the benefits achieved thus far. For them, a political reorientation and reevaluation of the current situation is mandatory.

It can best be begun by reviewing some pertinent events which illuminate part of the problem the broad working class public has experienced in this recent period. We ought to begin with an event that had world significance but was covered in a low-key and tendentious way in the Soviet press and even more so in the imperialist West, particularly the United States.

Gorbachev's nemesis

Long after Gorbachev is gone, when historians try to reconstruct the story of his downfall, and when the debates about the coup and the workers' apparent indifference to Yeltsin's call for a general strike have ended, one important event will finally stand out as pivotal in Gorbachev's decline.

It will not be the election of Boris Yeltsin as Russian president. Nor even the hardships that arrived in the train of Gorbachev's capitalist reforms.

The turning point in his fortunes, which will ultimately prove to be his undoing, was the insurrection in Alma-Ata in December 1986, some 20 months after Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It was a huge, spontaneous rebellion that involved some 200,000 people, as the Soviet press belatedly reported.

The insurrection in Alma-Ata upset all the calculations of the Gorbachev regime and removed a pillar he was relying on to accomplish his capitalist reformation.

One would have expected blazing headlines in the West. But no such thing. While articles appeared in the major capitalist newspapers and magazines, they lasted only a day or two and then the event seemed cast into oblivion. Its significance was woefully underplayed. Most of the working class press also either paid no attention or gave a bourgeois interpretation of this revolutionary development.

It was an event that could be well understood in the U.S., but only if cast in the light of the great rebellions that took place in Watts, Harlem, Newark and Detroit.

The revolutionary struggle in Kazakhstan should not be confused with the pro-imperialist independence movements of the Baltic area. These were given early encouragement by the Gorbachev reformers, who intended to make these republics a showcase to the West of the capitalist reforms. What a howling miscalculation that was.

Even now, however, when national antagonisms are said to be tearing the USSR apart, there seems to be no memory in either the Western or Soviet press of the events in Alma-Ata on Dec. 17-18, 1986. Before examining what touched off such a great social explosion, let's review a few facts.

Kazakhstan's remarkable development

Alma-Ata is the capital of the republic of Kazakhstan. This one republic alone has a land mass equal to that of Western Europe. It is in the arid south central region of the USSR, and borders on Siberia to the north, China to the east, and the Kirghiz, Uzbek and Turkmen republics to the south.

Kazakhstan is the third most populous republic in the USSR, with about 15 million people. As a result of immigration from other republics, particularly from Russia and the Ukraine, the Kazakh people are said to have been reduced proportionally to about a third of the population, but in recent years have been on the increase.

This republic is rich in mineral resources — notably coal, oil, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, chromium and silver. It has developed a large iron and steel industry and manufactures many industrial products. It has considerable hydroelectric power. The Soviet Union's space program has a major center there.

During the Khrushchev period vast tracts of previously wild grasslands in Kazakhstan were opened up to cultivation in the "virgin lands" campaign, which helped stimulate the wave of immigration. It created a great deal of enthusiasm and helped transform Kazakhstan into a great new grain-growing center for the Soviet Union.

The Kazakh republic has loomed large in the inner politics of the Communist Party (CPSU), especially in the struggles over leadership.

When, after the death of Konstantin Chernenko, Gorbachev ran for general secretary of the party in March 1985, the Politburo member who nominated him was Andrei Gromyko, regarded then as a conservative Communist. Whatever speculation there may be over the factional lineup in the Politburo, one thing is certain: Gromyko nominated him, and then others followed suit.

Grigory Romanov, a Politburo member, aspired to the post, and so did Viktor Grishin. One Politburo member who did not support Gorbachev's nomination was Dinmukhamed Kunayev, head of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan for a quarter of a century. Whatever the rivalries and aspirations of the Politburo members after the death of Chernenko, Kunayev was not in the running. But he was a stalwart supporter of the old guard and regarded by some as a protege of Leonid Brezhnev.

Gorbachev purges old guard

Gorbachev, it is now obvious, had his own ideas. However they evolved, whether or not they became apparent to him soon after he entered the Central Committee or developed later, he soon opened a drive to get rid of the old guard.

Gorbachev began relieving one after another, with a view towards revamping the Politburo. It was fairly easy to displace some of them with what appeared at the time as Gorbachev supporters. But the displacement of Kunayev turned out to be an insuperable problem.

Kunayev was strongly entrenched, very popular, and had many achievements behind him. In fact, it was often said of his republic that it gave far more to the Union than it received, unlike some of the less developed republics.

The main thing Gorbachev had to consider was that there were only two leaders of the Kazakhstan party on a national level, and Kunayev was the more enduring and popular. But he was a hard-liner, so-called. He had had only one dispute with the center and that involved irrigation — an extensive project to divert Siberian waters to the southern republics. After many years of scientific debate, the digging of a canal was finally begun. However, as the political dispute between Kunayev and Moscow heated up, the project was abruptly halted with no discussion. Whether or not there was scientific merit to it, it appeared that the issue was decided on other grounds.

By 1986, Gorbachev was already the most popular man in Western Europe and the U.S. Flattery of him was flowing like water. To firm up his majority in the Politburo, it was necessary to get rid of Kunayev.

Dumping party procedure

Since Gorbachev had made his reputation on glasnost and democracy, the legal and correct way to do it, if he could not get a clear majority in the Politburo or Central Committee, would have been to call a congress of the party. At that time the party was the leader and guide for government decisions.

The party congress was a natural place for Gorbachev to raise his political and organizational problems. If he had a new program or a new method of procedure, if he were embarking on glasnost and democracy, the initial place to start was the congress of the party, the principal organ that was still supposed to guide the government.

If he had a restructuring plan of his own, that was the place to bring it. If he had sharp and serious criticism calling for an overhaul of the governmental apparatus, there was no more suitable organization to discuss it than the guiding organ of the government, the CPSU.

Above all, the party congress was the place to renew the Central Committee. Then the Central Committee would elect a new Politburo.

Before the death of Lenin, party congresses took place just about every year. But during Stalin's time, as is well known, there were very few congresses. If we are to take Khrushchev's word, there was only one congress in 14 years. After Stalin's death, party congresses were held more regularly.

So from every point of view, if Gorbachev was intent on removing Kunayev as an obstacle to his program, there was a way to proceed in accordance with glasnost as well as general democratic centralist procedures according to communist doctrine.

Kunayev ousted as head of Kazakhstan party

Instead, he put pressure on the Central Committee of the Kazakhstan Communist Party to remove Kunayev as general secretary. The deed was done at a Dec. 16, 1986, plenum in Alma-Ata. This was charitably reported in Western capitalist papers like the Washington Post as reflecting the "advice" of Moscow. How different from the pre-Gorbachev days when they surely would have labeled such an undemocratic diktat as being on "orders from Moscow."

According to a recent book (Gorbachev by Dusko Doder and Louise Branson, Penguin Books, New York, 1990), Gorbachev had spent months maneuvering to dislodge Kunayev and other hard-liners from the Politburo. He finally succeeded one month later, in January 1987.

Meanwhile, however, Gorbachev and his collaborators in Kazakhstan had to think long and hard on their choice to replace Kunayev as head of the party there. Obviously, another Kazakh would be best in a Kazakh republic. But they failed to come up with one.

The next possible choice was a Russian, the largest ethnic group in Kazakhstan. But that might open up an internecine struggle between the two nationalities.

Finding a compromise among the Ukrainians or Byelorussians must have been thought of but rejected. Finally they got Gennadi Kolbin, a Chuvash who looked Russian but was from the Autonomous Republic of Chuvash! How could such a choice be accepted? But the fateful decision was made.

Mass rebellion follows

No sooner had the choice of Kolbin been announced than the insurrection started in full force. A huge crowd stormed the party headquarters, then the police station. How many were killed is not fully known, but later dispatches made it clear that hundreds were arrested and harsh prison sentences were handed out.

At one swoop, Gorbachev had set in motion the centrifugal forces which would dissolve the socialist union and ultimately undo him. These forces were incompatible with any type of socialist centralization. Even capitalist centralization, as was soon to be evident, became difficult if not impossible.

The announcement of Kunayev's removal could not but reverberate immediately in the neighboring republics. It could not but be heard in China, Pakistan, India and Iran.

It was the kind of blow whose meaning would be well understood in those parts of the world, even if the eyes of the Western proletariat were closed by the capitalist press. It was an unmistakable sign that a rupture had developed between the center and the Asian republics. It could not but delight the imperialist bourgeoisie.

The struggle in Alma-Ata was the first reported rebellion in the Soviet Union since the days of Kronstadt in 1919 and it broke the solid front of unity among the nationalities.

To those who scoff at this unity and drag up the repressions during the Stalin period, we are not unmindful of that aspect. Notwithstanding its relevancy, however, it obscures and does not illuminate the nature of the current struggle.

The Soviet Union for nearly 70 years was able to hold together more than 100 nationalities. True, it might have been by force, but it lasted during war and peace, during civil war and famine. There had been no known rebellions of nationalities in the USSR until the insurrection in Alma-Ata.

Effect on armed forces

Above all, it had repercussions in the armed forces, the defensive armor of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. During the revolutionary period in the USSR, the army under Lenin and Trotsky had abolished rank and privilege. These were restored later, however, and then were enormously inflated under Gorbachev as part of the material incentives introduced with the bourgeois reforms. Glasnost became a vehicle for the dissemination of bourgeois pacifism. The setbacks in the Afghanistan revolutionary struggle were used to disaffect the rank and file. Never before in Soviet military history was there even a semblance of this bourgeois phenomenon.

The Alma-Ata insurrection sent shock waves throughout the many nationalities in the USSR and at once awoke the nationality problem as a principal element in the struggle against Gorbachev's reforms.

Kolbin's nomination was regarded as a hostile act. Much worse for Gorbachev, the indictments for "hooliganism," criminal destruction of property, and the killing of police, militia and civilians all tended to antagonize the population, as did the accusations of corruption against Kunayev and his removal from the Politburo a month later.

The rebellion spread to all the cities of Kazakhstan. One important indication of Kunayev's prestige was that he himself was neither imprisoned nor indicted, and to this day is said to be alive and well and a strong supporter of the conservative grouping.

Reaction in West

The imperialist press in the U.S. played the rebellion in very low key. Imagine their outraged tone had this happened during the Stalin era: "The Stalinist monolith has been cracked. The nationalities are now awakening. Rebellion in the Russian empire is rising to the surface." But nothing like that kind of reporting took place. The capitalist press was involved in frying other fish. It was most concerned with what appeared to be the immediate release of Andrei Sakharov, the symbol of counterrevolutionary bourgeois ideology and himself a leader of many in the bourgeois intelligentsia.

Sakharov, Yeltsin and the others who feel such great kinship to the Western intelligentsia and to capitalist values in general also denigrate and look down on the southern republics as a burden. Moreover, they look upon Asia in general with fear and apprehension.

And so the Western imperialist press found it convenient to repeat the Tass account that the rebellion was confined to Alma-Ata and involved at most a few thousand "hooligans." Many were said to be intoxicated. A Dec. 23, 1986, Washington Post article was entitled "Soviet Rioters Got Vodka, Drugs, Witnesses Report."

How does this differ from the way the French bourgeoisie described the proletarian insurrection of 1871 when the workers of Paris set up the Commune?

But eventually a very different account came out. According to the book by Doder and Branson, at the height of the rebellion in Alma-Ata there were 200,000 people "milling around" in the streets. Seven police were killed and an unknown number of civilians killed and injured. In the aftermath of the rebellion, Gorbachev dispatched a team of Politburo members from Moscow to take control. An enormous purge of Kazakh officials followed, including the outright dismissal of 1,200 police.

On Feb. 19, 1987, the Washington Post admitted that the rebellion had involved many thousands, many of them students, and that "placards used during the demonstrations called for `Kazakhstan for Kazakhs' and quoted sayings by Lenin on the nationalities question."

While the students were in the vanguard, as happens in most social explosions, the vast numbers in the streets had to be workers, who were outraged at the chauvinist turn being taken in Moscow by the Gorbachev grouping.

Meanwhile, Gorbachev was telling the world that a new day was dawning with vast reforms and freedom of speech, of the press, new freedoms for the church and so on.

All this tended to obscure what was happening in the south and what it meant for the whole Union.

The imperialist bourgeoisie was making great strides with Gorbachev, and in the heartland of Russia itself there appeared new and strong voices of dissent, voices of the bourgeoisie getting more certain of itself and becoming more encouraged day by day by Gorbachev's international demeanor and the reception abroad.

But overlooked completely was the seething cauldron in Alma-Ata. The demonstrators had cried "We want Kunayev back." While the majority were overwhelmingly Kazakhs, there were also other nationalities, including Russians, who were opposed to the unseating of Kunayev.

Today when we view the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the struggle among the nationalities, Azerbaijan against Armenia, the struggle within Georgia, the new awareness in Uzbekistan, Kirghizia, the independence of Moldavia, and so on, we must remember that the origin goes back to the insurrection that took place in Alma-Ata.

It arose after Gorbachev took steps that were undemocratic and anti-glasnost to the core in an effort to put across his pro-capitalist reforms.

Party Conference looked the other way

In June 1988, the bourgeoisie hailed the 19th Party Conference. It was carried live on CNN and covered extensively in all the media. It was presumably a complete exposition of what democracy and glasnost meant. In total, it was an attack against the prior administrations, from Stalin all the way to Chernenko. Most of all, attacks were leveled against the "bloated" ministries, the so-called "monopolies," and it was said they had to be dismantled in order to accelerate perestroika.

Pitifully few were the voices warning that what was in store was not a change from "administrative and command" procedures to democratic procedures, not the elimination of monopolies, but the establishment of bourgeois ministries, which would be not less but more bloated.

The 19th Party Conference was a great display of glasnost in action. It pleased the imperialist bourgeoisie no end. Yet the most crucial question, the question which was to decide whether the Soviet Union would remain a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, already lay in the balance. Kazakhstan was not discussed and the Azerbaijan-Armenian struggle, which was due to be considered at this conference, was literally cast aside. Kazakhstan received the poorest billing. The new general secretary of the Kazakhstan party mouthed the phrases of Gorbachev and his supporters.

The Gorbachev forces raised a hoopla for perestroika and the many good things that were to come. The Soviet public was treated to a denunciation of the communist past. All its achievements were denigrated. The fate of the country was left in the hands of the new reformers to reshape the social character of the Soviet Union.

Where can national disputes get resolved?

The national question and the restructuring were dealt with in a thoroughly illegal and unconstitutional manner. A conference can take up many questions, but matters that are programmatic in character can only be taken up by a delegated body, a party congress. Gorbachev knew this, but he also knew that at a party congress he could not prevail.

But a party conference is not chosen in the same way. It is much looser. There was plenty of room to pack it with his supporters.

As we have written in earlier articles, the Soviet Union is a bicameral parliament. The provisions of the Soviet Constitution on this are clear and simple and remained virtually unchanged until the recent counterrevolutionary events.

This bicameral form of government is unique in world history. It has two chambers, the first elected by proportional representation and universal suffrage, the second by nationality. What is significant about this setup is not the makeup of the first body but of the second. It is composed of all the nationalities, large and small. All legislation has to pass both houses.

The second chamber is where questions of nationality are initiated, discussed and if necessary arbitrated and mediated. It is a parliamentary forum which is most suitable not only for understanding but for lending a sympathetic ear. If there is no agreement, a new election must be held of both houses.

When this machinery was set up in the early 1920s, during Lenin's time, it was agreed to by all the factions. Through all the various changes of the constitution, the bicameral system remained in force. Having met a disaster in Alma-Ata, it was appropriate for the leadership to bring the matter to the Soviet of Nationalities.

At the time of the Party Conference, the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia seemed just as urgent. But like the Kazakhstan rebellion, it was side-lined.

Gorbachev did finally call together commissions to study the problem. But these were deliberate exercises in futility. They had no arbitration authority. They met for the purpose of airing the disputes, and seemed to only contribute to the animosity. Gorbachev reveled in scolding the nationalities for not arriving at an agreement, after which the meetings were adjourned without any tangible results.

He continued the unconstitutional procedure of failing to call together the Soviet of Nationalities which, along with the Soviet of People's Deputies, had the power to enforce a decision, not only in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Armenia but in Georgia as well. Despite veiled threats of force, disappointment of the republics with the central government was growing. All of it showed that Gorbachev and his grouping were going ahead with restructuring in the direction of capitalist reforms without calculating the dangerous centrifugal forces they set in motion.

Sham democracy

Kunayev's opposition to the reforms lay at the base of Gorbachev's effort to illegally and unconstitutionally remove him. True, this had been the practice of his predecessors in the Politburo, but it was nonetheless illegal and unconstitutional, even if he used the Central Committee as a rubber stamp to approve the matter.

Thus, Gorbachev began his reformist leadership not by reviving socialist democracy but by pandering to and developing bourgeois democracy and stifling genuine democratic procedures.

Even if Gorbachev thought a congress of the party would be reluctant to adopt specific, clear-cut proposals, he still had the option of appealing to the mass of 20 million Communists, not to speak of the broad public.

But he shunned all this and went through a process of sham democracy at the party conference which deprived the rank and file party people of electing delegates to a party congress with legal power to legislate for the party. By the time a party congress took place, it had been put in the position of advancing its own demise as legal guide to the government.

Had all of this taken place in the midst of dramatic economic growth spurred by restructuring, there's no question Gorbachev would have been hailed as a hero of the people, notwithstanding his violation of democratic procedures.

However, no sooner had the conference ended than one government report followed another indicating further and further decline, until a looming catastrophe stared them all in the face.

Turn to the West

Turning back to socialist production seemed altogether unrealistic, in view of the commitment of all the leaders to move on with the economic reform and away from socialist construction. There seemed only one avenue open to redress the situation. Obviously, it was the avenue that Gorbachev, Shevardnadze, and the rest of the leadership had long thought about as the means to make the bourgeois reforms work and to establish the USSR as a state within the imperialist world framework.

They would rely upon the imperialists, particularly the U.S., to help them restructure and break up the socialist system. This would mean the integration of the USSR into the Western imperialist alliance.

At first this integration was resisted by Western imperialism. They insisted that the conversion of the economy had to come before any assistance. But the breaking up of socialism means chaos, disorder, unemployment, misery and poverty. This is the catalyst for revolt and the revival of revolutionary struggle. They all understand that.

Even Henry Kissinger, one of the prime architects of counterrevolution in the USSR, now says that privatization is not the "cure-all." He estimates that to establish a stable capitalist system would require at least "$1.5 trillion a year for five years — far beyond any foreseeable private or governmental resources." (New York Post, Sept. 17.)

He ought to know. He is one of the principals in the Council on Foreign Relations, which sports many former and present government heads.

Iraq and Cuba

As the crisis deepened, the imperialist G-7, the dominant imperialist powers, reconsidered and took it for good coin that the capitalist restructuring of the USSR was to begin moving in earnest. They demanded political proofs, however, and they got them.

The first came automatically, without the intervention of the West. That was the exercise of Great Russian chauvinism against the other nationalities.

The second and far more visible was the alignment of the USSR with the imperialist powers in their aggression against Iraq, about which we wrote extensively.

The third, which we have now all witnessed, is the complete abandonment of revolutionary aid and assistance to the beleaguered Cuban socialist republic.

The struggle between the oppressed nations and the oppressors is one of the characteristic features of the world imperialist system. The struggle for national equality is one of the cornerstones of Leninism.

All this leads to one fundamental conclusion: The capitalist reforms in the USSR have turned into a struggle of the oppressing nation against the oppressed. They've finally joined the camp of the imperialists in this regard. We cannot regard it as a solitary development.

Foreign policy is and always has been an extension of domestic policy. The geopoliticians of the bourgeoisie who regard everything from the point of view of superpower rivalry are incapable of understanding the relationship of the national question to the class question precisely because they are the clientele of the imperialist bourgeoisie. They see Iraq as well as Cuba as part and parcel of superpower rivalry, as though the class structures were irrelevant.

The aggression against Iraq could never have happened with the USSR's support had the Gorbachev grouping not embarked upon the bourgeois reforms, with their attendant violation of Leninist norms on the national question. One followed the other as day follows night.

Of course, this may not have been clear quickly enough, especially in view of the vacillations in Soviet diplomacy. The invitation to Soviet Chief of Staff General Moiseyev to meet with Gen. Colin Powell a year ago in the U.S. to coordinate military policy was a milestone in the U.S. effort to engage the Soviet military in its aggressive plans. It took two summit meetings to pull the USSR into them.

Despite all vacillations and qualifications, the USSR did join the aggression, although it didn't send a military grouping into combat.

Not power blocs but class camps

Soviet support for Cuba had been considered as apart from all other USSR diplomatic ventures. The Cuban missile crisis was a throwback to the heroic age of the Bolshevik Revolution. It is true that Khrushchev teetered back and forth while humanity held its breath, but nevertheless the showdown with U.S. imperialism revived the revolutionary image of the USSR as the ally and protector, with qualifications, of the anti-imperialist worldwide struggle.

The bourgeois view, endlessly repeated, is that the interests of the Soviet Union in Cuba were part of an arbitrary struggle for geopolitical advantage between two superpowers. Much of the progressive movement failed to see that it was really part of an international class struggle with the oppressing imperialist countries on one side and the oppressed peoples, the working class and the socialist countries on the other; a struggle between two social systems based on antagonist classes.

It was an error for some Marxists to have employed the term "superpower struggle"; it tended to conceal the sordid profit motive of the imperialists and hide the necessary class struggle of the workers and oppressed.

The complete capitulation of the USSR on the question of Cuba is therefore a class betrayal rather than merely an abandonment of geopolitical struggles for so-called national advantage. Therein lies its real significance.

Thus in trying to understand the renunciation of the anti-imperialist struggle by the USSR, one must tie what has happened in relation to Cuba to the USSR joining the aggression against Iraq, and even earlier to the defeat of the insurrection in Alma-Ata.

The revival of the revolutionary class struggle against imperialism in general, as well as against the current camarilla in the USSR, requires first and foremost a reevaluation of the social and class forces in the USSR.

It requires an understanding that, except for the early years of the revolution, the proletariat has been in power in the Soviet Union only in a sociological and economic sense; and only in a very limited way in a political sense.

The enormous growth of privilege and the nascent development of an actual bourgeois current in the USSR aided and abetted the development of actual counterrevolutionary forces. The growth of privilege within the party dammed up revolutionary consciousness; it inhibited the party from fully exercising its revolutionary potential for developing the new society.

It is wrong, however, to sum it all up in terms of bureaucracy alone. That presents an altogether false perspective. The extreme, unyielding, ever-present pressure of world imperialism never faded away for even a single day. One can only marvel at the great accomplishments in industry, science and culture made in spite of war, counterrevolutionary incursions, subversion, economic isolation and blockade.

The Soviet Union was the first in space. It established the second greatest industrial and technological apparatus in the world. It was the only underdeveloped country that rose out of imperialist economic and financial bondage. Only a socialist revolution was able to accomplish that.

Nor is this drama finished. What will revive the struggle for socialism? The infliction of enormous unemployment, hunger and poverty on the masses, and the general disillusionment of the lower echelons of the bourgeois intelligentsia itself, will bring the realization that the incredibly euphemistic term "privatization" is merely a cover for capitalist slavery.

The lower echelons of the communists will learn more quickly the closer they come to the poverty line. Above all, the teachings of Marx, Engels and Lenin, which can never be expunged from the USSR, are the greatest source for a rapid resurgence of the movement.

Last updated: 19 February 2018