On the mass organisations

Letter to the Russian Marxists

 

The entire history of the international workers' movement in the twentieth century has furnished us with a wealth of material to show the way in which the working class and its organisations develop. From the study of the workers' movement over several decades, I drew the following inescapable conclusion: that when the mass of the workers enter the arena of struggle to change society, they inevitably gravitate, in the first instance, to the traditional mass organisations. The reason for this phenomenon is not difficult to see. The mass of the workers--and even the greater part of the advanced elements of the class--do not learn from books, but only from experience, and particularly the experience of great events. Consequently, every generation of workers must re-learn through painful experience the lessons of the past. Where a strong and educated Marxist tendency is present, the process by which the class reaches the correct conclusions can be considerably shortened. This was the case with the Bolshevik Party in 1917. The success of the Bolshevik Party was, however, by no means guaranteed in advance.

Lessons of October

Although the Bolsheviks had established themselves as the main party of the Russian working class before the First World War (in the period 1912-1914, they were already four-fifths of the organised working class), nevertheless, in February 1917, at the start of the revolution, they were reduced to a small minority. The problems deriving from the war--mass repression, general mobilisation, the initial wave of patriotism, clandestinely--hit the Bolsheviks harder than other parties. Then at the beginning of the revolution, there was the eruption on the scene of the most politically uneducated masses. The masses did not know the Bolsheviks, but gravitated to the well-known names, the parliamentary leaders who seemed to be "left" and "socialist". In the course of the revolution, the masses gradually learned to distinguish between those leaders and parties that really stood for their interests and those that betrayed them. This was not a simple process, but rather a series of successive approximations. Without a correct approach to the masses and their organisations, the Bolshevik Party could never have taken power in October.

Basing themselves on correct programme, policy and, not least, correct and flexible tactics, the Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, transformed themselves from a numerically weak organisation of only 8,000 or so in February to a mass party capable of leading millions of workers and peasants to power in October. But there were many problems. In the early stages, until the return of Lenin in April, the Party leaders, following the line of Stalin-Kamenev, vacillated and adopted the opportunist policy of supporting the "progressive" bourgeoisie in the Provisional Government--in other words, the policy of class collaborationism that Lenin had fought against all his life. Only after a sharp internal struggle culminating in the April Conference did the Party, under Lenin's insistent pressure, return to a genuinely revolutionary policy. This was the prior condition for the success of the October revolution.

However, the adoption of a correct policy by the proletarian vanguard was not, in and of itself, sufficient to carry out the revolution. Before conquering power, it was first necessary to conquer the masses. That is the essential meaning of Lenin's policy in the nine months leading up to the October overturn. This was not accomplished by standing apart from the mass organisations and lecturing the working class from the sidelines, but by the most active and energetic participation in the soviets, which from February onwards, represented the masses. However, at the beginning--and right up to August-September, the Bolsheviks remained a small minority in the soviets, which were dominated by the Mensheviks and SRs, who were supporting the Provisional Government. Lenin advised the Bolsheviks to try to win the majority of the soviets under the slogan "patiently explain!" (This is not bad advice for the Russian comrades today, either.)

The slogan "all power to the soviets" is known to everyone. But, as Hegel once remarked, what is known is not necessarily understood. What was the real content of the slogan "all power to the soviets"? Taking his starting point from the reality that the Bolsheviks--the real revolutionary tendency--were in a small minority, Lenin addressed himself to the majority of workers who were still under the influence of the Menshevik and SR leaders in the following terms: We Bolsheviks say that the only way to get peace, bread and land and a just solution to the problems of the oppressed nationalities is by breaking with the bourgeoisie, and by transferring power to the soviets. But we are in a minority. You do not yet accept all our ideas. They seem too advanced to you, too difficult. Very well. Let your leaders, the SRs and Mensheviks, take the power. They have a big majority. They could take the power tomorrow. Let them do it! Why do we need the bourgeois parties who only stand for the interests of the landowners and capitalists and are prolonging the war? Tell your leaders to break with the bourgeois and take power into their hands! And, Lenin added, if they do this, we will guarantee that the struggle for power will be reduced to the peaceful struggle for a majority in the soviets."

Thanks to Lenin's flexible tactics, the patient work of the Bolsheviks in the soviets succeeded in winning over the workers who had previously supported the Menshevik and SR leaders. Lenin's methods had nothing in common with anarchism or hysterical ultra-leftism which imagines that the struggle against opportunist workers' leaders can be accomplished merely by denunciations and insults. By placing demands on the Menshevik and SR leaders, Lenin drove a wedge between the rank and file and the leadership, which was gradually exposed in practice before the whole working class. A key turning-point was the Kornilov rebellion in the Summer, when the Bolsheviks immediately offered a united front to the soviet leaders in the fight against the main enemy, Kornilov. This was despite the fact that the Mensheviks and SRs had played an openly counterrevolutionary role after the July Days, when they collaborated with the reactionaries, not only in slandering and persecuting the Bolsheviks, but demanded the arrest of Lenin. Despite this, Lenin understood the need to propose a united front to the opportunist leaders--not a programmatic bloc, of course, but unity in action against Kornilov--as a means of winning the workers away from the opportunists and exposing them in practice. This, and this alone, was what enabled the Bolshevik Party to win a decisive majority in the soviets (and the main trade unions) in the period immediately before the October revolution, and therefore launch a successful insurrection.

Stalinism and Bolshevism

Lenin established four basic conditions--not for socialism or Communism--but for the day after the revolution, for the transitional period between capitalism and socialism, for a workers' state, which, as Engels explained long ago, is not a state in the ordinary sense of the word (i.e. a monstrous bureaucratic monster for the oppression of the majority by a minority) but a very simple, extremely democratic organ of workers' power, which, moreover is designed to disappear, and which begins to dissolve itself into society as soon as the development of the productive forces permits a general reduction of the working day, rising living standards and education.

What were Lenin's four conditions? 1) Free and democratic elections with right of recall of all officials. 2) No official to receive a higher wage than a skilled worker. 3) No standing army but the armed people. 4) Gradually, all the tasks of running the state must be done in turn--when everybody is a bureaucrat, nobody can be a bureaucrat. Under Stalin every one of these conditions were abolished. The state became a bureaucratic monster, designed to protect the power and privileges of millions of officials--but especially the leading elite--against the working class which was thus politically expropriated. Only one conquest of October remained--a very important one, to be sure--the nationalised, planned economy, which ensured gigantic and unprecedented progress for the USSR, not thanks to Stalin and the bureaucracy, but in spite of them.

Stalin drew a line of blood between the bureaucracy that usurped and betrayed the October revolution and the Trotskyists who fought to defend the real ideas of Bolshevism-Leninism. Yet, even when they were expelled from the Communist International, Trotsky and his followers still regarded themselves as Communists and faced towards the Communist Parties, fighting for a change of course, for workers' democracy and proletarian internationalism. However, at that time, the door was firmly shut. The successes of the first five-year plans and industrialisation of the USSR--which Trotsky had first advocated against the opposition of Stalin--meant that the bureaucracy was able to consolidate its position for a whole period.

However, as Trotsky had predicted, the privileged caste of officials that rose to power as the result of the isolation of the revolution in conditions of terrible backwardness, and which betrayed all the traditions of Leninism and October, ended up by undermining the basis of the nationalised planned economy--the only one of the conquests of October that survived. Not content with their bloated incomes and privileges, they yearned to transform themselves into the owners of the means of production, to be able to transmit their wealth and privileges to their children through inheritance. Already in their lifestyle and psychology these creatures were similar to the bourgeois in the West. They carried Communist Party cards in their pockets, but had nothing in common with Communism, socialism or the working class. In the end, they passed over to capitalism with the same ease with which a man changes from a smoking to the non-smoking compartment of a train.

This was the biggest betrayal in the history of the world working class movement. By comparison, the betrayal of the Social Democratic leaders in 1914 was child's play. Those who persist in characterising the former regime as "socialism" can never explain how such a monstrous thing could occur. The truth is that the regime of Stalin, Khrushchov, Brezhnev and Gorbachov had nothing to do with socialism, as understood by Marx and Lenin. It was a hideous bureaucratic caricature. Trotsky explained that a nationalised planned economy needs democracy as the human body needs oxygen--not the caricature of bourgeois parliamentary democracy, but the genuine workers' democracy established by Lenin and Trotsky in 1917. Without the democratic participation and control of the working class at every level of industry, society and the state, the rise of a privileged bureaucracy is inevitable, with all the attendant evils of corruption, swindling and mismanagement, which undermines and sabotages the planned economy. The chaos and sabotage increased to the degree that the Soviet economy advanced and became a modern, complex and sophisticated mechanism. This is the secret of the decline in the growth rate of the USSR from about 1965 onwards. With more scientists than the USA, Germany and Japan together, the Soviet Union could not get the same results. When the growth rate reached zero in the last years of Brezhnev, the regime stood condemned.

However, what was condemned was not socialism or Communism, but the bureaucratic, totalitarian caricature which we call Stalinism. The only way to have solved the problems of the Soviet economy was by allowing the working class (together with the intellectuals, scientists, engineers and so on) to run industry, science and the state on the principles of Soviet democracy outlined by Lenin in State and Revolution and summed up in the 1919 Party programme.

The collapse of the USSR and the fatal role of the old leaders of the so-called Communist Party have created an entirely different situation in the Communist movement. The old monolithic control can no longer be exercised to the same extent. The rank and file, especially the youth, are full of doubts. There is a growing mood of criticism and questioning. But the leaders have no answers. Educated in the Stalinist school, they respond to questions with manoeuvres and organisational measures. No longer are the Communist Parties part of the state. But this does not mean they have returned to a Leninist position. Far from it. Neither in the political nor the organisational sphere do they follow the traditions of the Bolshevik Party. The openly anti-Leninist policies and conduct of the leaders of the CPRF provokes growing discontent among honest Communists everywhere. But what is the alternative?

The real alternative was explained long ago by the man who, after Lenin's death, attempted to defend the spotless traditions of October against Stalinist reaction--the Leninist traditions of workers' democracy and proletarian internationalism. For this Trotsky and his followers, the Bolshevik-Leninists were slandered, persecuted, imprisoned and murdered. I this way, Stalin thought he had broken the knot of history and completely eradicated the authentic tradition of Bolshevism. But you cannot murder an idea that is rooted in the reality of social development and the needs of the working class.

Lessons forgotten

If the leaders of the CPRF were real Communists, if they stood for a Leninist policy, Russia would already be on the eve of a new revolution. But the whole problem consists in the fact that Zyuganov and the leaders of the CPRF have nothing in common with the programme, policy and methods of Bolshevism. The biggest irony of all is that Zyuganov sees himself as a great statesman and "realist". In reality, he is the exact opposite. His supposed realism consists in constantly manoeuvring at the tops with different representatives of the bourgeoisie. He has embraced the market precisely at a time when it has reached its limits on a world scale and is rapidly collapsing in Russia.

Most Russians are sick of the so-called free market and all its works. Even large layers of the petty bourgeoisie who temporarily benefited from the bubble economy in Moscow and Petersburg have been disillusioned by the collapse in the Summer of 1998. There is a growing mood that "things were better before"--that is, the mass of people would welcome the introduction of a nationalised planned economy, but with a democratic regime. If the leaders of the CPRF would defend such a programme, they would undoubtedly get mass support. But they are not prepared to stand for such a programme.

Throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union the former Stalinist leaders have played the most pernicious role. Yesterday they defended a monstrous bureaucratic, totalitarian caricature as "socialism"--and thus made socialism stink in the nostrils of the workers and youth. Today they actively defend capitalism. Even where, as in Poland, the masses voted for them in protest at the nightmare of capitalism, they refused to take action against the gangster capitalists, clung to the stinking rags of "reform" and--prepared the way for the return of reaction. These people are so degenerate that they are not even capable of advocating a return to the old Stalinist regime. That is no accident. They live in fear of the working class, and they know that, if they were to move against capitalism, even with the intention of re-establishing the old bureaucratic regime, they could not hold power for long. The basis is absent for the re-establishment of a totalitarian regime; the working class is too strong and would not be willing to accept meekly the rule of a privileged bureaucracy for long. There would be moves to establish soviets, to introduce workers' control, to limit the income and privileges of the officials, to establish a regime of genuine workers' democracy--in other words, to return to the programme of Lenin and Trotsky. For this reason, the so-called Communist leaders refuse to break with the bourgeoisie and base themselves on the movement of the working class.

By failing to base themselves on the working class to expropriate the rotten and degenerate Russian bourgeois, the leaders of the CPRF have become a gigantic obstacle in the path of the working class. Yet here we are faced with an apparent contradiction. In spite of the history of Stalinism, and in spite of the fact that the CPRF leaders defend policies that have nothing whatsoever in common with the policies of Lenin, the CPRF has gained mass support, and this support tends to grow. Why? The answer is quite clear: because there is no mass alternative. The masses, angry and frustrated by the so-called "free-market reform" (that is, the capitalist counterrevolution) seek some way of expressing their opposition to capitalism and the reactionary and degenerate Yeltsin clique. When it comes to manifesting their opposition in elections, how else are they expected to vote? In essence, the vote for the CPRF represents an attempt to oppose capitalism. It is necessary to take this into account if we are not to fall into sectarian errors and cut ourselves off from a layer of leftward-moving workers in Russia.

It is necessary to see the process as it will unfold in practice. This means we must try to see things through the eyes of the working class, not from the standpoint of a small group, a sect. The working class can never express itself through small organisations--even if their programme is 1,000 per cent correct. They do not even notice the existence of such groups, but inevitably express themselves through the medium of the existing mass organisations. Time and again the masses will turn to the CPRF (and, to some extent, the RKRP) because there is no alternative. Although Zyuganov and co. do not want to come to power (for the reasons already explained) and would far prefer to enter a coalition, which they could use as an excuse for not carrying out an anti-capitalist policy, at a certain point the working class, when it enters into action, will take them by the scruff of the neck and push them into power. That will very quickly produce a crisis in the ranks and a whole series of splits, in which a layer of the best workers and youth will move to the left and seek a real revolutionary policy. If a genuinely Leninist tendency were present in sufficient numbers before the process of inner differentiation takes place, it would be possible to fertilise the left wing with the ideas of Bolshevism-Leninism and bring about the creation of a mass Communist current, and then party. This would completely transform the whole situation in Russia and internationally.

We must approach the question of the mass organisations, not formalistically, but concretely and dialectically. It is necessary to distinguish between Zyuganov and the worker who honestly votes for the CPRF in the belief that he is voting for Communism. Also within the ranks of the CPRF, there are not only bureaucrats and careerists, but honest Communists who are looking for the revolutionary road. It is necessary to find a road to these elements and, speaking to them in a language they understand, win them for the Leninist programme. The same arguments can be used in the case of the RKRP, where, despite the Stalinist policies of the leadership, many good workers and youth have joined the party looking for a real Communist policy, which they do not find. The members of the RKRP could undoubtedly play a most important role in the developing revolution in Russia, on one condition: that they break radically with the false policies of Stalinism and fight for the ideas of the Bolshevik Party and the October Revolution--the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky.

Soviets, unions and the Party

This fact that the workers cannot express themselves through small organisations can easily be demonstrated in Russia by analysing what has happened on the trade union front. After the fall of the old regime, there was a proliferation of small so-called "independent" trade unions. Many left-wing workers and youth joined them, as an act of rejection of the old Stalinist "unions". Under the Stalinist regime, these were not unions at all, but organs of the bureaucratic-totalitarian state (as was the "Communist" Party). Their purpose was not to represent the workers, but to police and control them. This was in complete violation of Lenin's policy on the trade unions, which, he insisted, should be independent of the state--even a workers' state.

Now, after a decade of experience, it is both possible and necessary to draw a balance-sheet of the so-called "independent" unions in Russia. What happened to all their great plans to replace the FNPR? They have ended in a complete farce. With a few exceptions, almost all these groups have degenerated into corrupt and reactionary pro-bourgeois organisations, with little or no base in the working class. On the other hand, the FNPR has been, to a large extent, separated from the state (at least, it no longer has the position it had in the old regime; links between the bourgeois state and trade union bureaucracies exist, of course, even in the "freest" capitalist countries). Of course, the FNPR leadership no more carries out a genuine proletarian policy than does the leadership of the CPRF. But millions of workers remain in this organisation, not because of Shmakov and co., but despite them. The workers understand the need for a mass, all-Russian trade union organisation. Moreover, in one region after another, the workers at local level have taken over the union, kicked out the old bureaucrats and begun to transform the FNPR into a real workers' union. This shows the whole process as it will unfold in the next period. It completely demonstrated the correctness of Lenin's argument that Communists must work in even the most reactionary unions to win the workers.

In one of his last works--Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay--Trotsky explained that the trade union bureaucracy has an organic tendency to fuse with the state. We see this tendency in many countries, including Russia. Shmakov and the other FNPR leaders have the delusion that they can reach a compromise with the bourgeoisie and the state which will safeguard their privileges and relieve them of the necessity of fighting. This is a foolish illusion. As always the reformist leaders who imagine themselves to be great realists turn out to be the worst utopians. The general crisis of world capitalism, and the absolute collapse of the productive forces in Russia, leave no room for such a compromise. Big battles are inevitable which will put the question of power on the order of the day in Russia. The trade unions will be shaken from top to bottom. Either the leaders will be forced by the pressure of the masses to put themselves at the head of the struggle or they will be pushed aside and replaced by people who are prepared to fight. The workers will transform their organisations in the course of the struggle. This process has already begun in some areas and will continue and deepen.

The fact that the trade union leaders drag their feet and attempt to reach an agreement with the government is provoking discontent in the rank and file. The workers have responded by setting up strike committees and other rank and file committees of a soviet type. The establishment of soviets is a correct and necessary step, which the workers in one area after another have taken, or are in the process of taking. This shows the unerring class instinct of the Russian proletariat, which, in spite of everything, still takes as its point of reference the revolutionary traditions of 1905 and 1917. Let us not forget that, at their inception, the soviets were neither more or less than extended strike committees--committees of action. So it is now in many areas of Russia, like Anzhero-Suzhdensk, where the soviets have taken over the town in all but name. This example will be followed in many other areas in the next period.

However, the setting up of soviets and strike committees--important as it is--does not solve the fundamental problem facing the Russian workers. In and of themselves, soviets solve nothing. What is decisive is the party that leads them. In February 1917, the workers and soldiers set up soviets--a step of enormous importance to the revolution. But in the hands of the Mensheviks and SRs they were reduced to impotence. As a matter of fact, at one stage (after the July defeat) Lenin described them as "counterrevolutionary soviets" and he temporarily considered abandoning the slogan "all power to the soviets" in favour of "all power to the factory committees." In Germany in November 1918, the soviets were in the hands of the Social Democratic leaders who betrayed the revolution and handed power back to the bourgeoisie. Under these conditions the soviets soon dissolved, and were merely transient phenomena. The same would have happened in Russia, if it had not been for the Bolshevik Party and the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. Naturally, we are enthusiastically for the establishment of soviets on the widest possible scale, and we call for the linking up of the workers' committees on a local, regional and national basis. But this must go hand in hand with the BUILDING OF A REVOLUTIONARY PARTY, WITH STEELED AND EDUCATED CADRES, people who are not just prepared to fight, but who stand firmly on the basis of Marxism-Leninism.

Marxism and anarchism

Some say that such a party is not necessary, that the workers do not need a party, that it leads to bureaucracy, and so on. That is a fatal error. The whole history of the international workers' movement shows the absolute need for a revolutionary party. Anarchism is an expression of impotence, which can offer no way out. Of course, the reason why some honest workers and young people turn towards anarchism is because of their revulsion against Stalinism and the bureaucratic and class collaborationist policies of the existing leaderships, both on the political and trade union field. This is understandable, but profoundly mistaken. The answer to a bad leadership is not no leadership, but to create a leadership that is worthy of the workers' cause. To refuse to do this, to abstain from the political struggle and "send them all to the devil" may seem to be very radical, but in practice it is precisely the opposite. It amounts to handing over the workers to the existing leaders without a struggle. In order to combat the policy of class collaboration, it is necessary to pose an alternative in the form of a revolutionary policy, and therefore also a revolutionary tendency.

Trotsky once said that the theory of anarchism is like an umbrella full of holes--useless precisely when it rains! There are many examples to corroborate this assertion. The most tragic case was Spain in 1936. The anarchist workers of the CNT played a heroic role in the struggle against fascism. In July 1936, they rose up and stormed the barracks armed with just sticks and knives and a few old hunting rifles, and beat the fascists. They set up soviets and established a workers' militia and workers' control in the factories. The CNT and the POUM (a centrist party led by ex-Trotskyists) were the only power in Barcelona. Soon the whole of Catalonia was in the hands of the workers. The bourgeois President of Catalonia, LLuis Companys, actually invited the CNT to take power! But the anarchist leaders refused to take power, and the opportunity was lost. Yet later, these same ladies and gentlemen did not hesitate to enter as ministers in the bourgeois Popular Front government, which played the same role in Spain as the Provisional Government in Russia in 1917. This paved the way for the shipwreck and destruction of the revolution.. The Spanish working class with 40 years of Franco dictatorship.

However, the most crushing answer to anarchism is the fate of the Albanian revolution. The Albanian masses, as the result of the nightmare brought about by the collapse of so-called market reform (very similar to what is happening in Russia on an even bigger scale) rose up in a spontaneous insurrection. With no organisation, no leadership, and no conscious plan, they stormed the barracks with their bare hands. The army fraternised (not just the soldiers, but also the officers), opened the gates of the barracks and distributed arms. Revolutionary committees were established, especially in the South, and the armed militias spread the revolt from one town to the next. The forces of reaction sent by Berisha were routed by the armed people. There was nothing to stop them from entering Tirana, where lorry loads of soldiers were circulating in the streets, chanting slogans in support of the revolution.

But here the importance of leadership becomes clear. Lacking a revolutionary leadership with the perspective of taking power and transforming society, the insurrectionists failed to take Tirana. By retreating to their own local areas, they allowed Berisha the opportunity to regroup his forces in the North. Into the vacuum stepped the former Stalinists of the so-called Socialist Party led by Fatos Nano. In common with all the other former "Communist" leaders of Eastern Europe, Nano and the others have no perspective of socialism--not even of returning to Stalinism. They have all embraced the "market" and "democracy"--that is, capitalism. In the case of Albania, that meant embracing imperialism also. The American and European imperialists were terrified by the events in Albania and attempted to intervene, using the services of Italy and Greece. But foreign intervention alone could not liquidate the Albanian revolution. That was the task of Fatos Nano and the ex-Stalinists of the "Socialist" Party. They played the same role as Noske and Scheidemann in Germany in 1918, that of carrying out the counterrevolution in a "democratic" disguise. If the Albanian revolution had been carried through to a conclusion, especially with the programme of workers' democracy and internationalism of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, it could have been the beginning of the socialist revolution on the Balkans. One word from Nano would have been sufficient. The masses would have finished the job very quickly. The example of a workers' democracy would have an electrifying effect on the workers and youth of Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, Greece and throughout the Balkans. There would be no question of intervention. On the contrary, the reactionary bourgeois cliques in the neighbouring countries would have been faced with revolution. But Fatos Nano had no intention of carrying through the revolution.

The defeat of the Albanian revolution has had the most catastrophic results, not only for the people of Albania, but for the whole of the Balkans. By refusing to take power, the Albanian former "Communists" left the door open to Berisha to rebuild his base in the North. Basing himself on all kinds of cut-throats, thieves, drug barons and assorted scum, Berisha has already attempted to take power once. This is a warning to the Albanian masses. At the same time, he has been intriguing with the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army and providing them with arms. The present flood of Kosovar refugees into impoverished Albania will deepen the internal crisis and create further possibilities for reaction. Nano, acting as a puppet of imperialism, has opened the doors to NATO, which is in the process of turning Albania into an armed camp, with the risk of dragging it into the war with Yugoslavia. This would spell a new nightmare for the masses. And the Committees of Salvation? Those revolutionary committees which played such an inspiring role at the beginning of the revolution? We no longer hear anything of them. They are reduced to silence and impotence. In the absence of a genuine revolutionary leadership, in the absence of a clear perspective of taking power, this was inevitable. It was always a question of "either...or" for the Albanian revolution. This we explained from the beginning. The same is true for Russia--even more so. Either the Russian workers, basing themselves on their own strength and organisation, take power into their own hands, or else, sooner or later, the way will be prepared for the most monstrous reaction. That is the threatening catastrophe of which Lenin spoke in 1917. We are faced with a similar threat now. The only alternative is the programme of Lenin--the programme of the socialist revolution in Russia and internationally.

Nationalism or internationalism?

Lenin's programme has based on the complete independence of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie--especially its so-called "liberal" wing. The perspective put forward by the Bolsheviks against the class collaborationism of the Mensheviks and SRs was that of WORKERS' POWER. That is the meaning of "all power to the soviets!" What a contrast with the policies now being pursued by Zyuganov and the other leaders of the CPRF!

Even greater is the contrast when it comes to proletarian internationalism. Marxism is internationalist, or it is nothing. Already at the dawn of our movement, in the pages of the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote: "The workers have no country." The internationalism of Marx and Engels was not a caprice, or the result of sentimental considerations. It flowed from the fact that capitalism develops as a world system--out of the different national economies and markets there arises one single, indivisible and interdependent whole--the world market. Today this brilliant prediction of the founders of Marxism has been brilliantly demonstrated, in almost laboratory fashion. The crushing domination of the world market is the most decisive fact of our epoch. Not a single country, no matter how big and powerful--not the USA, not China, not Russia--can stand apart from the mighty pull of the world market. This was, in fact, part of the reason for the collapse of the USSR.

The reactionary theory of "socialism in one country" runs counter to the whole development of history. Such an idea cannot be found in the writings of Marx, Engels or Lenin. It is an abomination from a Marxist standpoint. Lenin never conceived the Russian revolution as a self-contained act, but as the first stage in the world revolution. He stated on innumerable occasions after 1917, that if the revolution did not triumph in other countries--especially the advanced countries of the West, the Russian revolution could not survive. Now Lenin's prediction has been shown to be correct.

All his life Lenin fought against chauvinism, especially Russian chauvinism, which he detested. He would be horrified to see the monstrous Russian chauvinism that characterises the speeches and articles of the so-called Communist leaders in Russia today. These people who dare to speak in Lenin's name (whenever they remember him) violate the letter and spirit of Leninism in every word they utter. Is it not a disgrace and a crime that anti-Semitic slogans are tolerated on Communist demonstrations? And how does it come about that Communist leaders openly profess themselves to be believers and members of the Russian Orthodox Church--that primitive bastion of superstition and feudal reaction? To equate such monstrosities with Communism is the vilest crime against Lenin's memory.

At this moment, the workers and youth of Russia mobilising against the criminal aggression of NATO against Yugoslavia. In this they are not alone. There is a militant anti-war movement in many western countries. In Rome there was an anti-war demonstration of 100,000 people. In Greece there are daily demonstrations against the war, one of which succeeded in turning back a convoy of NATO lorries. Sailors in the Greek navy have refused to obey orders to go to the war zone. The trade unions are beginning to mobilise against the imperialist aggression. IG Metal, the biggest union in Germany, has come out against the war. A meeting of 500 shop stewards held a meeting in Milan to call for a general strike, and there has already been a four hour general strike in one area (Messa). The Greek railway workers have warned that if NATO sends ground troops to Yugoslavia they will organise a general strike to stop the movement of troops and supplies. This is proletarian internationalism in action!

The opposition to American imperialism on the part of the Russian workers and youth is a progressive phenomenon. But it must be based on Lenin's policies, and not diverted along nationalist lines. The reactionary forces are attempting to take advantage of the healthy instincts of the Russian workers for their own purposes. Lenin taught us that the proletariat must maintain its class independence at all times, and not mix its banner up with bourgeois and petty bourgeois forces. Lenin stood for internationalism, class independence and revolution. The first condition for pursuing a progressive foreign policy is for power to pass into the hands of the working class. Our first demand is to BREAK WITH THE BOURGEOISIE. The best way to help the working people of Yugoslavia is to unite the forces of the working class to put an end to the bourgeois reactionary regime in Russia and return to a genuine regime of workers' democracy and soviet power. Then the Russian workers could provide genuine assistance to the workers of Yugoslavia by helping to overthrow the reactionary capitalist regimes in Eastern Europe and carry the revolutionary struggle into the NATO countries themselves. That is the only way to save, not just Yugoslavia, but Russia itself.

By openly flirting with the forces of reaction, the leaders of the CPRF are preparing a future catastrophe for the Russian workers. In reality, they are encouraging Russian chauvinism as an excuse for not carrying out a Leninist policy--that is to say, a policy of internationalism and class independence. They spread the false idea that there are "bad" (foreign) capitalists and "good", "patriotic" (Russian) capitalists. Thus, they hope to throw dust in the eyes of the workers to conceal their capitulation to capitalism. On this way lies only new disasters. It is necessary to tell the truth: on the basis of capitalism there is no way forward for the working class. It is necessary to expropriate the capitalists--not only the foreign ones--and re-instate a nationalised planned economy, but under the democratic administration and control of the working class. Failure to do this will inevitably prepare the way for the most ferocious reaction.

Capitalism is in crisis on a world scale. The crisis of Russian capitalism--a weak, degenerate and corrupt capitalism with neither roots nor perspectives--is merely an acute expression of this fact. And the crisis has only just begun. The Asian collapse continues and deepens. It has spread to Russia and Brazil. The Brazilian crisis is spreading to the rest of Latin America, which presents a direct threat to the USA itself. Tensions between the USA, Europe, Japan and China have intensified on the question of world trade. There is a ferocious struggle for markets everywhere. The existence of huge unsold stocks of goods in Asia and elsewhere puts pressure on prices and profit margins. To add to the problems, the US stock exchange is vastly over-valued and can produce a collapse at any time. Since the former power-house of world capitalism, Japan, is in a deep crisis, and the German economy is slowing down, the inevitable collapse of the boom in the USA will produce the deepest slump in the world economy since the 1930s. This will have catastrophic consequences for Russian capitalism, which is already in a seriously weakened state, and will not be able to withstand the shock.

The strategists of capitalism in the West look to the future with dread. One of the major players on world markets, George Soros, has just written a book in which he predicts that the capitalist system will destroy itself. Of course, this is not the case. There is no such thing as a final crisis of capitalism (this false theory was put forward by the Stalinists in the period 1929-33 to justify the ultra-left policy of the "Third period") Lenin explained that the capitalist system will not collapse automatically of itself. It must be overthrown by the conscious movement of the working class. Precisely for that reason a party is required. Unless and until capitalism is overthrown by the proletariat, it will always find some way out of a crisis. The question is WHAT way out. In the case of Russia, if the workers do not take power, the only possible solution (at least for a time) would be the crushing of the working class under the iron heel of dictatorship. It is foolish to imagine that any other outcome is possible, given the depth of the crisis. But such a perspective will inevitably provoke the working class to fight with all its strength.

The West is terrified of a new October, and is throwing money at Russia--for the moment--in an attempt to prop up Yeltsin. In vain! The degenerate Russian bourgeois, while exploiting the Russian workers, is not prepared to invest in production, but is sending its money to Swiss and German bank accounts. Meanwhile, the economy sinks deeper and deeper into crisis, threatening ever growing numbers with ruin, misery, even hunger. This is the real meaning of the "freedom" which capitalism promised the peoples of the USSR!

The working people of Russia have already drawn their conclusions from the nightmare of capitalism. They are waiting for the call to fight for a change of society. But the call does not come. In place of a Leninist policy, there is only parliamentary intrigues, ministerialism, coalition politics and manoeuvres at the top. Instead of basing themselves on the independent movement of the working class, on the soviets and strike committees, the leaders base themselves on the policy of class collaboration and that emptiest of all slogans, the slogan of "national unity"--that is to say, the "unity" of the horse and the rider who does not hesitate to dig in his spurs. This is not Communism, but the antithesis of Communism. It is a policy of holding back the working class and subordinating it to the bourgeoisie. And it will inevitably lead to defeat and ruin for the Russian working class and the Russian people.

Back to Lenin!

In 1938, Leon Trotsky--the man who, together with Lenin, was the architect of the victory of October--wrote that the crisis of humanity could be reduced in the last analysis to the crisis of leadership of the proletariat. How true these words are! Today, the Russian working class is a thousand times stronger than in 1917. The working people desire a fundamental change. That is why the support for the CPRF is increasing, and no other reason. With correct leadership, there is no force on earth that could prevent them from transforming society. But those who call themselves Communist and trade union leaders are doing everything in their power to hold the movement back and shore up the disgraced and discredited rule of the bankers and capitalists. It reminds one of the Biblical phrase: "I asked you for bread, and you gave me a stone."

Today, the Communist who wishes to understand the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union can only find the answer in the writings of Leon Trotsky, particularly that masterpiece of Marxist thought The Revolution Betrayed written in 1936, which predicts with astonishing accuracy the whole process that has occurred up to the present moment.

Of course, there remain some important psychological barriers in the way of a Russian Communist who wishes to acquire a knowledge of the ideas of Trotsky. Three generations of a systematic campaign of lies, slanders and distortion, in which Trotsky, the lifelong revolutionary, leader of the October revolution, founder of the Red Army, author of the main manifestos and theses of the first four congresses of the Communist International, was portrayed as the "worst enemy of Leninism" and an agent of Hitler. Worse still, some of those who describe themselves as "Trotskyists" in Russia present such a malicious caricature of Trotskyism that they immediately alienate any Communist worker they come into contact with. That was never the method of Trotsky, who, like Lenin, always preferred to convince with arguments, on the principle of "patiently explain." In fact, the ideas, methods and traditions of Lenin and Trotsky were essentially the same. This assertion can be very easily tested by any honest person who takes the trouble to study Trotsky's writings for themselves.

After decades in which "Trotskyism"--that is to say, genuine Bolshevism-Leninism--was violently separated from the Communist movement in Russia, the way is now open to reach the rank and file of the Communist Parties. Along this road lies the salvation of the Communist movement in Russia. Once the activists of the workers' and Communist organisations adopt the Bolshevik-Leninist programme, the problem would be solved. In order to bring this about, two things are necessary: the experience of the working class of great events, and the patient and systematic work of explanation and cadre-building which is today being conducted by the Russian Trotskyists of the Workers' Democracy group--the true inheritors of the mantle of the Russian Left Opposition.

Workers of Russia! Communists of Russia! It is time to call a halt! It is time to return to the ideas and programme of Lenin! It is necessary to fight together for a change of course. No more class collaboration and manoeuvring with the bourgeois! For an independent proletarian policy! Only the programme of October, of soviet power, workers' democracy and internationalism can show the way forward. That is the programme we offer to the workers of Russia. We invite all honest Communists to unite around this banner--the banner of Bolshevism-Leninism, the programme of Lenin and Trotsky.

Ted Grant
London, 26th April 1999.

 

Home  |  Back to Russia  |  Back to Marxist Theory