Why We Need A Discussion on the Soviet Union (Pre-Convention Document)

by Barry S.

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We have seen in the exchange on Nicaragua that the differences in Solidarity that originated in the three theories of the nature of the USSR that emerged from the Left Opposition lead to different assessments of politics today within Solidarity.

These differences are glaring regarding Cuba, both historically and in the present. The majority of Solidarity members are for the overthrow of the Cuban regime. I (there may be others) defend the Cuban government and state against any attempt to overthrow either. I am for reform, not revolution, in Cuba. I should add that the analysis of the Cuban revolution that was developed in the U.S. SWP and in the Fourth International was that none of the three theories applied to the Cuban revolution. Specifically, it was not Stalinist, but bypassed Stalinism from the left.

We haven’t had much discussion on Venezuela and Bolivia but I suspect that there are differences that are at least colored by the differences between the three theories of the Soviet Union that emerged in the 1940s and which remain in Solidarity today.

While the three theories, which can be shorthanded — “state capitalism,” “bureaucratic collectivism” and “bureaucratically degenerated workers state” – lead to different conclusions regarding such important events occurring in the present, the differences on the Soviet Union itself have led to differences concerning its collapse.

From discussions I have had with Solidarity members, those with the “third camp” position, whether “state capitalism” or “bureaucratic collectivism,” tend to see the collapse of the Soviet Union as not very important. The USSR didn’t move backward with the return to ordinary capitalism, but “moved sideways,” as one comrade told me.

I believe that the overthrow of the nationalized and planned economy was a terrible blow to the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union. They lost full employment, and much of the health care, housing and educational systems. Their standard of living plummeted. The privatization of the means of production through theft (there wasn’t enough private capital to buy them) has resulted in a new class of very rich and powerful capitalists, and a huge and widening gap between the new capitalist class and the workers and peasants.

From the standpoint of the workers and peasants, this wasn’t a “move sideways,” but a catastrophe.

It was the ruling bureaucracy itself that carried out the counter-revolution, and which benefited from it.

The overthrow of the USSR did discredit Stalinism as an ideology. This is positive. However, the fact that the USSR and similar countries were viewed by the masses of the world, and in the U.S., as some form of socialism, socialism itself was discredited. This partially explains the disarray of much of the left worldwide.

But a more important factor in this disarray is the fact that workers states were overthrown. The workers states in the USSR and China had been powerful bulwarks against imperialism. That they no longer exist has opened the way for a renewed imperialist offensive world-wide (with all its contradictions).

Without the Soviet bureaucracy’s moves toward imperialism and capitalist restoration, the first Gulf War would have been unlikely. The second invasion of Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan would have been impossible under the “old” USSR. These invasions would have led to a direct confrontation with Moscow.

The undercutting of the Palestinian struggle by the Oslo accords would have been unlikely.

This difference on the meaning of the collapse of the USSR is important because it leads to different assessments of the international relation of forces.

There is another issue concerning the understanding of the implications of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is unclear whether Solidarity supports overthrowing the capitalist state and replacing it with a workers state (dictatorship of the proletariat), and the progressive nationalization of the means of production and establishment of centralized economic planning under workers’ management from the level of the local enterprise on up to the national economy. I say I am unclear about what members think about these questions from comments by members that the USSR’s economy was “statist” or a “command economy.”

A related topic that has been called into question in Solidarity is the need for a mass party of the vanguard of the working class before and after a future socialist revolution – was Stalinism the result of Leninism.

I am not raising this question in the pre-convention discussion to kick off a discussion of these questions. I’m merely outlining that there are serious differences in the here and now within Solidarity that are related to these three traditions.

What I am proposing is that the convention vote to hold a literary discussion of these questions, and I make that a motion for consideration at the convention. The object would be to at least clarify the differences and commonalities. Hopefully, greater agreement could be reached on current events.

Such a discussion will probably reveal that there are viewpoints in Solidarity that do not arise from these three historical tendencies.

I believe we can learn something from the recent fusion in Australia in this regard. My report on that fusion has been submitted to the pre-convention discussion.

Patrick Quinn has described why at the foundation of Solidarity from different currents with roots in the three theories of the Soviet Union in 1986 it was decided to avoid the discussion I am now proposing, to allow the process of fusion to have time to breath, and to avoid lineups along the old lines. I wasn’t there, but this decision seems like a reasonable one to me.

But it is not reasonable as a permanent prohibition. I think it should have been dropped after the momentous world-shaking event of the overthrow of the USSR in 1991. In any case, there is no valid reason to avoid it now.

The Australian comrades are proceeding in the opposite way. Far from prohibiting this discussion, they are encouraging it to proceed in a non-factional, leisurely and comradely manner. We should do the same.

We can learn from the Australians another important method in dealing with these questions, and that is to have minority political positions reflected in our press. That has not been the case concerning these questions in the pages of ATC, with rare exceptions. Rather the “bureaucratic collectivism” tradition dominates ATC. This is most glaring regarding Cuba and colors the coverage of Venezuela and Bolivia, and other developments south of the border.

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