ReD article, 30 August 1991, by Andy Blunden.

The End of An Illusion

The collapse of the coup in the Soviet Union on 22 August 1991 was the most decisive turning point in the process which in Europe has led to the collapse of Stalinism, the re-unification of Germany and the restoration of capitalism.

The State established by the October 1917 Revolution, horribly deformed and weakened by Stalinist reaction, made its last-ditch attempt to halt the return to capitalism and fell in a heap before the restorationist demagogue Boris Yeltsin. Stalinism had led the Soviet workers into a blind alley, and they walked away as a popular counter-revolution faced down the geriatric and homicidal generals of the Kremlin.

The Soviet state remains an arena of struggle, but the balance has been decisively tipped in favour of the bourgeoisie. The perspective for the working class can only be to lay hold of the state machine piece by piece, before it is used for the imposition of capitalist property relations. Likewise, workers must endeavour to take control of individual enterprises and prevent their being given away to foreign or domestic capitalists. To the cry of ‘democracy’, workers must answer with demands for ‘real’ democracy - the right to actually control their own lives.

The granting of national independence to the Baltic republics will be but a means toward their subjugation by Great Russian chauvinism. The centrist Gorbachev now stands (if at all) on one leg, with the collapse of the ‘right wing’ of the bureaucracy, and power has passed decisively to the restorationists. Although Yeltsin rose via the bureaucracy, and in that sense is but another Stalinist, in essence, his social basis lies outside the bureaucracy, as an agent of the bourgeoisie. As he challenged the generals, and called upon the Red Army divisions to obey his command, Bush, Major and Mitterand were on the other end of a telephone line. He has since wasted no time in organising new detachments of a militia committed to the new regime.

Large numbers of nuclear missiles and other weaponry still threaten imperialism’s New World Order, and their social base is now quite uncertain. It’s not over yet, but the decisive social turning point has been passed. A counter-attack is not impossible, but it is highly unlikely.

Above, I referred to the coup as a ‘popular counter-revolution’. It would be wrong to say, as the ISO do in their headline, ‘Workers Defeat Coup’. The workers undoubtedly participated, but as ‘citizens’ rather than as workers. To see the defeat of the coup as having a proletarian class content would be to completely misread the situation building up. The class character of the anti-military movement was popular, and it has unleashed forces which are hostile not only to Stalinism, but to the working class itself.

One bourgeois commentator said: ‘There is a danger of the movement for democracy becoming a lynch-mob’. Yeltsin did win the masses, and he is unashamedly a capitalist restorationist. This is not just a question of political confusion, or the difference between form and content. What we have seen is a social overturn, which will open the way for the restoration of capitalism. It is a sharp break in class relations, and entirely new processes have been set into motion. To dismiss the events of August 1991 as of small significance because the USSR was a capitalist state all along, or since 1939, or 1923, or whatever, is again to miss entirely the significance of what has just happened. The question of a repressive regime being replaced by a more democratic one is only one side of the issue, and by no means the dominant one in the long term. There is every reason to believe that the euphoria and openness of these days will be short-lived. There is a new relation of world forces now.

We should evaluate the events of the last few years culminating in this ‘popular counter-revolution’ unequivocally in the positive. Like workers who have occupied a factory, but after months of privation are forced to give up their gains, the Soviet workers cannot pretend that their eventual capitulation is really a victory, but they must and will recognise that the end of the isolated workers state now opens up the possibility for beginning a new struggle, not in isolation, but in unity with the rest of the working class. The lessons won in a long and bitter struggle will strengthen them in the struggles ahead.

All the problems experienced by the Russian Revolution over the past 70 years will confront the workers who make the next revolution. That is why it would be criminal to write off these experiences as ‘capitalism’. The problems of the exercise of state power by the working class, the problems of overcoming backwardness, the problem of the unevenness of the revolution on a world scale, and the counter-revolution waged by imperialism against the workers of any country which dares to stand against it, the problems of bureaucratism, the regeneration of bourgeois relations in the market, the problem of planning and workers’ control, etc., all these problems still confront the working class.

A realistic assessment is required of the experience of the Russian Revolution, from 1917 to 1991. This must be based on Trotskyism, the only consistently revolutionary critique of Stalinism. The defence of the residual gains of the revolution must be founded on the most thoroughgoing workers' democracy’.