In the Light of Marxism

Questioning of an Historical Period

Elif Çağlı

May 1991

X. What Events Say

It is inevitable for the bureaucratic command economies based on state property, though they are presented as “socialism” by the Stalinist bureaucracies, to come to a halt exhausting with time their potentials to develop. In the age of world economy, there are but two options: either to surpass capitalism with a world proletarian revolution or, under the influence of world capitalist system, to become, in the last analysis, integrated with it.

To take the example of the USSR, the initial industrial accumulation and an advance of national development in this country were accomplished by quantitative rises in the use of labour-power and other means of production. The enormous potential sources lying in the vast lands of the USSR were suitable for such kind of enormous development. However, the level of development provided by the extensive growth is condemned to lag behind the kind of productivity rise offered by advanced technology. Thus the Soviet economy lagged behind the intensive development capacity of world capitalism. Despite this fact, the Stalinism depicted the progress in the Soviet economy as the proof that “socialism has been constructed”! There was no essential change in this attitude of the bureaucracy after Stalin’s death.

No matter how pompously the bureaucracy attempted to decorate its showcase in order to show its strength, the economic crises in the USSR and the other countries of the “socialist bloc” have been manifesting themselves with various social unrests and explosions. It was an objective necessity for the bureaucracy to reform the economy. The main problem of the bureaucracy was to increase the productivity of labour by achieving technological development and to try to close the gap with the level of development of Western capitalism. The problem of economic development, presented by the bureaucracy as “an endeavour to construct the advanced socialist society”, was no more than an endeavour to save from collapse an economy which lagged far behind the technological development and productivity rise in the capitalist world market. And this endeavour, within the framework of given conditions, inevitably based itself upon seeking to utilise the “blessings” of the capitalist world market. Briefly, the tale of “advanced socialism” told by the bureaucracy, who sought to catch up with capitalism and beg for its help, was in fact the indication of the bankruptcy of its conception of “socialism in one country”.

It is not surprising that, confronted with a serious crisis in the economy the bureaucracies in power begin to seek after reforms in the direction of capitalist restoration, since one side of the bureaucratic regimes is inherently open to world capitalism. The economic reforms, started with Khrushchev after Stalin’s death, were also manifestation of crisis in the bureaucratic regime. The attempts for economic reform in the mid-60s also revealed the desire of the bureaucracy to get integrated into the world capitalism even in the period of Brezhnev who maintained the orthodox devotion to the Stalinist conception of socialism. Thus, the desire for economic reform was not a personal choice of leaders like Khrushchev as some Stalinists, who sanctify the Brezhnev era, put it. It was by and large the product of the endeavour to overcome the crisis in the economy with the “elixir” of the world market.

That the bureaucracy attempted to suppress in those periods the mass movements in the Eastern European countries and gave up advancing the process of economic reform due to fear of political destabilisation did not mean that the bureaucracy was against incorporation into world capitalism. While the bureaucracy desired that the economy should possess the necessary potentials to develop along the way towards capitalism, it also intended to preserve its own system as it was. As if it was possible!

Since when the potentials for economic development were frozen under the bureaucratic regime, and an all-embracing crisis and stagnation set in, the main problem of the bureaucracy has become to overcome this contradiction. Accelerating of reforms in the direction of capitalist restoration has threatened the existence of the bureaucratic system and bringing of reforms to a halt has aggravated the severe contradictions of the economy. Thus the bureaucratic regime has demonstrated its incapacity to survive on its own foundations for a long period of time, although it survived in a certain period of history. It was a temporary and sui generis historical phenomenon. Although the Khrushchev era seemed like a de-Stalinization period, that the criticism remained superficial and limited in reality and that the Stalinism was glorified again with Brezhnev era, revealed how desperate the bureaucracy was in keeping its system alive.

The bureaucratic dictatorships had already entered a process of corruption and disintegration for years, as the world proletarian revolution could not make a new advance so as even to destroy the bureaucratic regimes in these countries. One of the most typical indications was that the dominant bureaucracies headed for a close relationship with world capitalist system in every field under the pretext of peaceful co-existence, having entirely disowned the aim of world proletarian revolution. The efforts to overcome the stagnation and recession in the economy through establishing closer relations with the world market has caused, for instance in Hungary, the adoption of capitalist market and its system of values for long. In countries such as the USSR, where the bureaucratic regime has tighter measures in legal framework, an illegal market was formed on the basis of the same relations.

The bureaucracy drew its lessons from all these experiences for the future. And the majority of the bureaucracy came to the conclusion that there was no other way out than to sacrifice the old in order to be able to get new revenues. When the survival of the bureaucratic regimes through reforms seems hardly possible, it is not surprising that those who understand this fact start to take a new course.

When a dominant class loses its faith in the future a division arises among its ranks as soon as they realise this. While some insist on the old, the others intend to find out a new course. The formers are by and large those who are most integrated with the old system and are thus unable to change. And the latters are those who have already taken steps in the direction of the new course and see their interests in sacrificing the old. Similar divisions occurred among the dominant bureaucracies of the Asiatic states that had entered into a process of collapse with the rise of capitalism. Among the dominant bureaucracies a division between those civil and military bureaucrats who are for the preservation of the bureaucratic rule and those bureaucrats who head for capitalist entrepreneurship seeking for becoming bourgeois has been going on for long. The bureaucrats who have entered into the process of becoming bourgeois will come out as bourgeois before us once the process has been completed. If the disintegration of the bureaucratic regime in the direction of capitalism reaches its conclusion, or this happens as a result of a sudden collapse, the old regime will become history.

The crisis of the bureaucratic regimes had already acquired tremendous dimensions when even the bureaucracy itself had to admit this at the turn of 1980. The pressure, the surfacing of which was delayed by repression in Brezhnev period, (the pressure of both the world capitalist economy and the discontent of the masses) has now burst out in Gorbachov era. In the new period, commenced with Gorbachov, the tales that “advanced socialism has been constructed” were left aside and the bureaucracy started to express the need to have a “realistic” point of view. Gorbachov declared that “the economy is on the verge of a thorough collapse, the transition to intensive growth has not yet started, and even the potential for extensive growth has receded.” Now the bureaucracy, surrendering in the face of economic collapse, was abandoning the propaganda of “real socialism” as it saw the salvation in getting integrated into the world capitalist system. It has ushered in a new era during which it was going to stand up for the “superiorities” of the capitalist market economy.

While it wanted to get integrated into the world capitalism, the bureaucracy, however, desired a controlled transition without upsetting the “stabilisation”. The bureaucracy’s nightmare was an upsetting of the “stabilisation” with the outbreak of a powerful storm. Thus the bureaucracy avoided revealing its hostile feelings to the ideal of socialism as much as it could and undertook the task of creating a new confusion with the introduction of a new concept of “socialism” amalgamated with capitalist market economy. The noisy proclamations that “socialism does not exclude market economy” proved once again that the bureaucracy was a “rootless” class that would never hesitate to bargain even with the devil when it saw its future at risk. Instead of losing everything by being overthrown by the proletariat, the bureaucracy took control of the process of capitalist restoration and thus demonstrated that it was a “baseborn” class ready for scrapping its old identity to the dustbin of history and reconstructing itself on a capitalist basis.

In the new period that started in 1985 when Gorbachov took office a general mobilisation has been launched in the direction of legalising and generalising the efforts to get integrated into the capitalist world market and clearing away of the obstacles along this course. This mobilisation accelerated the disintegration in all these countries called “socialist bloc” by the Stalinist bureaucracy and brought sudden collapses to the agenda. The collapse of the bureaucratic states in the Eastern Europe and the transition to bourgeois parliamentarism at full speed demonstrated the historically “flimsy” character of the bureaucratic states. The agreement in Yalta was annulled in Malta.

The call of Gorbachov for perestroika found its echo in all “socialist” countries consecutively. However, the speed with which the events unfolded stunned those ignorants of Marxist conception of socialism who daydreamed that the restructuring would improve “real socialism” further. On the other hand, it was merely the reflection of the petit-bourgeois mentality on the part of those who came up against Gorbachov era without condemning the bureaucratic regime. The petit-bourgeois socialists, who accepted and sanctified the existing situation for the sake of “socialism” until the crap under water came to the surface and the unofficial began to become legal with the Gorbachov era, rebelled when the reality manifested itself. It revealed the petit-bourgeois mentality which bases itself upon not the existing reality but what it wishes to see: “We wish it had remained as it was before and we could have continued to deceive ourselves!” That is the meaning of tears shed by the Stalinist socialists after the disintegration and collapse of the bureaucratic dictatorships.

Adapting themselves eagerly to the perestroika, the East European countries have set out to take their places in the camp of world capitalist system, breaking away from the so-called socialist camp spearheaded by the Soviet Union. The overthrow of the bureaucratic regimes by a proletarian revolution would mean that the dominant bureaucracy would vanish once and for all, in return for nothing, leaving the stage of history for the proletariat. Yet, in a process of restructuring coupled with incorporation into international capitalism new advantages would still be coming out even if the bureaucracy has lost its former position, which was based on one-party dictatorship in the bureaucratic regime. Thus an open scramble took place among the bureaucrats on how they would maintain their privileged social positions in the face of these two options for the future. The events demonstrated that the bureaucracy, as a whole, was not very much sensitive about the capitalist restoration. Its main interest was to secure its own future in one way or another. Therefore, the real scramble among the bureaucracy was about what shape the integration into capitalism would take, what political changes would it bring, what political decisions would not damage their interests etc.

Thus no voice of opposition to the capitalist restoration with socialist intentions was heard among the bureaucracy, neither in the East European countries which promptly became integrated into the bourgeois political system, nor in China where democratic mass demonstrations were suppressed bloodily, nor in Romania where Ceausescu’s head was offered to the international capitalism in return for transformation, nor in the USSR where the disorder on the basis of change still continues. Therefore, both the “conservative” and the “reformist” wings of the bureaucracy, as the Western press introduced, revealed that they have no fundamental differences with regard to the desire for integration into world capitalist system.

Even the most “conservative” sections of the bureaucracy had to recognise the danger of collapse awaiting the bureaucratic regime. The popular masses, crying out their rages against the bureaucrats in the streets, tolled the bells for the collapse of the bureaucratic regimes, announcing that it would no more keep on going as it was before. The events since 1989 have shown both the “conservative” and the “reformist” sections of the bureaucracy how far they can go. “The conservatives” have seen that they could save nothing by insisting on the old system. As in the most recent example of Albania, the attitude of Ramiz Alia-type bureaucrats demonstrated that the bureaucracy was a class in the process of collapse and that those who want to survive should seek the salvation in liberal reforms (the reforms they seemed to stand against for some time). Thus the Stalinists’ flimsy interpretation of the concept “conservative” as the “conservation of the socialist system” completely lost its credibility. As for the so-called “reformists”, it was revealed that the bureaucratic system could not be improved through reforms, that the liberal reforms could not be a vaccine of youth and that these could bring nothing but the collapse of the decomposing bureaucratic regime.

Those sections of the bureaucracy who are impotent to abandon the liberal reforms, but also fearful of collapse, as in the case of Gorbachov, proved, with their wavering attitudes, that they were unable to gain confidence neither of their people nor of the international bourgeoisie in the long run. That the impossibility to improve the bureaucratic regime through reforms became apparent, propelled, on the one hand, those sectors of the bureaucracy that are highly expectant of benefiting the rapid capitalist restoration (like Yeltsin) to become openly bourgeois. On the other hand, it propelled the other sectors fearful of the collapse of the bureaucratic regime to control the process by military measures and oppressive means.

The mist created by the winds of change in the “socialist bloc” blurred mostly the minds of the proletariat in these countries. Because of the suffocating atmosphere caused by the years of unbearable bureaucratic one-party dictatorship, these people were in desperate need of democracy like oxygen. Although the bureaucracy’s “glasnost” seemed like complementing the missing part (democracy) of “socialism” to some, soon it became evident that it was no more than a new trickery of the bureaucracy. In fact, glasnost was a hoodwinking attempt in order to prevent the working class from conquering the democracy by its own direct action. Under the cover of a pretended democratisation the bureaucracy wanted to make the working class believe that the economic liberalisation leading to capitalism is a salvation!

Hence, the perestroika of Gorbachovs could not have been without “glasnost”. The cynical steps taken by the bureaucracy towards integration into capitalism could not have been foisted on the proletariat without a pretended democracy show, which served to deceive the proletariat: “If you want glasnost, then accept liberalisation!” This is how the “reformist” bureaucracy conducted the mass mobilisation in order to carry out its plans. Briefly, in this process where the plight of the working-class and toilers is deteriorated, and which brought unemployment and high prices, the bureaucracy beguiled the popular masses with glasnost and thus condemned them to support the liberal economic change. In the absence of a revolutionary leadership and organisation both in these countries and on a world scale to motivate the proletariat in the direction of a proletarian revolution, the popular masses easily fell into this trap of the bureaucrats who are now becoming bourgeois.

In the first place the East European countries experienced a rapid, staggering change. In the process, the former stars of the bureaucracy and the new ones who came onto the stage as heralds of bourgeois political system flushed and waned one by one. Most of them are now forgotten. The “conservative” bureaucrats of the evening woke up as the “reformists” of the morning. In the end the old political systems based on the bureaucratic one-party dictatorships in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, East Germany, Poland and Romania collapsed. East Germany ceased to exist, uniting with the bourgeois Germany. With the liquidation of the former political system, multi-party bourgeois parliamentarism was launched in these countries. The entire legal obstacles on the way to capitalist integration were successively eliminated. And what is left behind are the kind of problems about how the European capitalism would assimilate these countries with economies on the rocks.

Those socialists who sought to understand the change in East Europe in terms of the dilemma “either revolution or counter-revolution” could not be credible at all. Neither they could have been. Because in order to be able to describe the change in the Eastern Europe as a revolution, the toiling masses must have stood up with a view to seizing power and proceeded by forming their own organisations. However, they could not help but serving as the mass support for the interior and exterior forces acting in the direction of capitalist restoration and bourgeois political system.

Nor were the events in Eastern Europe a counter-revolution from the standpoint of the proletariat. Because of the character of the old regime and of the political power, this change could be taken as a counter-revolution only from the point of view of the bureaucrats and their offshoots, politicians, who saw their interests in the preservation of the old bureaucratic system. However, one could not interpret the collapse of the bureaucratic regimes, which were obstacles erected before the proletarian revolution, as a counter-revolution from the standpoint of the proletariat. Despite the palace coups carried out by the bureaucrats themselves in order to put an end to the bureaucratic political regime might have been supported by the world bourgeoisie, the proletariat had no common interest with Ceausescus.

After all, what should be the main point to be underscored by those socialists intended to defend the interests of the proletariat is the indisputably bureaucratic character of the regime in these countries which, even before the recent developments, had nothing in common with a workers’ state, i.e. a workers’ democracy. Therefore, the debate as to whether the disintegration and collapse of the bureaucratic regimes was a “revolution or counter-revolution” makes no sense from the point of view of advancing the proletarian revolution.

Of course the situation with the USSR and China, as countries of enormous importance on a world scale, is different. In these countries, there are bureaucracies that have pursued their rule despite world capitalism and that have gained an enormous power on a world scale thanks to their bureaucratic power. These ruling bureaucracies are embodied in the huge party and state machinery, in the existence of giant armies. That means that the bureaucratic sovereignty in these countries, contrary to the East European countries, is not a flimsy shirt to be thrown away easily.

As with the solution of the problem of nationalities in the USSR, the problem has been transformed into an insurmountable dilemma for the global bourgeoisie and the Gorbachov administration which is in close collaboration with it. The direct dominance of the world capitalism over the nascent Russian market and a political stabilisation is desired at the same time. Stability is needed for the foreign capital to invest in these countries. But in order the USSR to achieve stabilisation the economic situation must be improved. How will it be done? When the interrelated factors are considered, it seems that there is as if a vicious circle, a chaos, prevailing. Although it is impossible to foreknow the course of events, we can say this: As once Trotsky noted, it is impossible for the bureaucratic sovereignties to overcome their crises through liberal reforms.

The only solution that will remove the chaos created by the disintegration of the bureaucratic regimes in vast lands of the USSR and China is a triumphant proletarian revolution. And this is also the only way that the great damage that is being done, and will be done, by capitalism in these lands as in the rest of the world can be prevented. Neither attempts of military coup to prevent the collapse of the bureaucratic regime nor the march of the process of capitalist restoration can stop the unrest in these countries.[1]

The disintegration of the bureaucratic regimes destroys and overturns the “stability” of the cold war period, the fake stability that found its expression in the formulation “peaceful co-existence”. Although this situation might whet the appetite of the imperialist countries for a re-division of the world, the end of the “stability” might also become the beginning of a new process that would trigger world revolution. That is why Marxists are concerned with the disintegration of the bureaucratic regimes. Apart from how the process of capitalist restoration will develop in two vast countries like the USSR and China or whether the world capitalism will eventually be able to devour these two giants, the most important thing to be underlined is the need to overthrow these bureaucratic regimes by a proletarian revolution, which are being disintegrated by the ongoing process of capitalist restoration. This is the only way to prevent the world capitalism from destroying the people and the lands of these countries and turning our planet into a capitalist marsh to render the lives of future generations utterly impossible.

The more the sovereign bureaucracy in these countries exercises tyranny and oppression over its own peoples on the domestic plane, the more it develops its relations and dealings with the world bourgeoisie on the international plane. Therefore, the existence of these sovereign bureaucracies is completely incompatible with the interests of the proletariat. These powers must be overthrown by the historical action of the working class. That they have continued their existence until today does not mean that the historical gains of the proletariat are preserved. Because the sovereign bureaucracy is a kind of power that empties, annihilates or hinders the gains. In conclusion, the bureaucratic dictatorships that existed during a certain period of history in countries like the USSR and China, are the historical realities which make the revolution necessary as they impede the march of the proletarian revolution, as Trotsky once noted in his analysis of the Russian tsarist autocracy.

[1] Additional Footnote: It is appropriate to briefly remind the events after these lines were written. The attempt of military coup in August 1991 by certain sections of the bureaucracy who desired to preserve their former privileged positions failed. It was such a different situation that even a major section of the Army and KGB did not support the coup attempt. As Yeltsin (the representative of the now-bourgeois bureaucracy) called for resistance from the parliament building as if a champion of “democracy” for “reform” process, which meant incorporation into world capitalist system, and managed to find an echo, the attempt of military coup collapsed within three days. This also marked a new turning point in which Gorbachov, having fulfilled his function, was abandoned and replaced by Yeltsin. Accordingly, the republics of the former USSR consecutively declared their independence beginning with the Baltic States. The USSR officially ceased to exist with the signing of an agreement by the representatives of the republics in Alma-ata (Almaty) on 21 August 1991. The Commonwealth of Independent States was founded. Thus, the phenomenon of the USSR, which set its seal on history for a long period of time, passed away into the pages of history with its ample lessons, both positive and negative, to be drawn by revolutionary Marxists as an extraordinary historical experience.