Collapse of the Soviet Union? Only workers’ revolt can stave it off
Robert Crisman
volume:  
volume 12
issue 3
February 1991

Gorbachev, hat in hand, begging food from Bush and the bankers.

Perestroika? Bleached bones in a pauper’s unmarked grave.

The people in Moscow are hungry and sullen, all the grand prospects of the past five years gone. The reforms, the hope of the market — litter in the streets, buried in winter’s vast drifts.

Hardline Stalinists back from the dead are up on their hind legs roaring for Order. Gorbachev grabs for a lifeline: the KGB, the Army, the threat of presidential dictatorship to quell the rebellious republics.

Pro-market “democrats” and breakaway nationalists fall back in dismay. Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, would-be architect of a junior partnership with the U.S. in global affairs, resigns, decrying Gorbachev’s drift toward the hard line.

Gorbachev a dictator-savior of the sinking Soviet Union? What else is left for him? His dream of installing a “regulated” market economy is in tatters. Reality has posed hard questions: how can market anarchy co-exist with economic planning and centralized control, and to what degree? How can one “restructure” the USSR’s economy, and with it the socio-political structure, without destroying the bureaucracy?

How can he reform an edifice so shot through with repression, waste, deceit, and lies — one which, even purged of these bureaucratic fruits, ultimately conflicts with the laws of the market because of its planned character?

Gorbachev has tinkered here and there with privatization and price controls, hoping that market “correctives” would jog the economy, while allowing some form of continued control from the top. Inevitably he has fallen back, unable to locate the key to peaceful transformation.

He used glasnost to try to force that change through — and unleashed a Pandora’s boxful of devils clamoring for capitalism outright, and even for dismemberment of the Union into a federation of capitalist republics.

Glasnost has also unmuzzled Soviet workers, and they too have cried out, but not for the price hikes and job loss the market would bring. They want the good life, political freedom, material and cultural abundance — the promise of socialism fulfilled.

They have stood fast against all capitalist-style encroachments and perestroika has died.

But the old command system is likewise gasping its last. The house is in ruins with no shelter in sight, and the USSR is poised on the lip of destruction.

The creaky balance wheel. Winter brought a political dogfight. Fighting for the upper hand are the Stalinist hardliners (momentarily ascendant), the pro-marketeers, and the workers. Straddling these forces is Gorbachev,’ failed reformer. No matter that he embodies more the vacuum of power than power itself. Who else is strong enough now to step in and fill up the vacuum?

“Democrats” cling to him yet as the “international guarantor” of International Monetary Fund (1M F) credits, even as hardliners cheer his toughening stance. The workers have yet to consolidate the strength to topple the Kremlin.

Without Gorbachev at this point, chaos is likely. Everyone feels this and fears it. Who is prepared to say with assurance they’d survive?

The West’s dilemma. Foreboding grips the West as well. Europe quakes at the prospect of Soviet upheaval — and refugees — spilling westward. Bush sends a billion inadequate dollars in aid and strains for ways to prop Gorbachev — hoping it all can be done on the cheap, before Citibank goes under and war with Iraq chews up what’s left of the U.S. economy.

It’s been Gorbachev that the West has banked on to serve as the conduit for capitalism into the USSR. He “ended the Cold War” and “liberated” the peoples of Eastern Europe from Stalinism. He appeared to embody the hope of the world for orderly transition to “post-Cold War” prosperity and peace.

The bankers took note: at home he was the Captain steering the ship westward through uncharted shoals. And if the ship buckled and sprung leaks, and the people jammed in the lower decks began to rage, there was no one else ready to take over. Yeltsin? The Premier of Russia’s 500-day march to market has already been scuttled, and with it his chance to succeed to the helm.

Now Gorbachev founders: the market has come knocking, the republics have risen up, the workers have said no, the old system has withered, the shelves have remained bare. The genie, out of the bottle, has taken aim at the Good Man of Glasnost ..

And so Our Man in the Kremlin reaches out — to the KGB, the Stalinist Old Guard, and Order.

Gorbachev, a Stalin reborn? What must the White House think?

Hope. Better Stalin than workers in charge in the Soviet Union; that’s what George Bush thinks. It’s workers who have stymied the capitalists’ return to the East. Witness their vocal bitterness, especially the women’s, at the failure of market “correctives” to put food on the table, and their opposition to price hikes and layoffs.

The miners’ strikes in 1989 foreshadowed a general struggle for workers’ democracy. The miners wanted to take over production and remove the bureaucrats from government. They stood together as equals across national lines — a rock-bottom challenge to both pro-capitalist secessionists and the Great Russian chauvinists in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Soviet working women have haunted the bureaucracy. Women have to stand in the long lines outside the empty stores, work the lowest-paid jobs, are most threatened by lay-offs, homelessness, and starvation. And they bear the brunt of a system that spits on the welfare of children.

Women are workers, consumers, mothers, unpaid domestics, insulted and ill-used antipodes to the bureaucrats. In them the hopes and demands of the Soviet Union’s oppressed find fullest expression.

Problem and solution. The October Revolution of 1917 was supposed to do away with privilege and parasites. But the Soviet state, besieged by the West, denied resources and technology, hence mired in the poverty of a thousand years, proved unable to fulfill the revolution’s mandate.

No one can liberate humanity on the basis of squalor. As we explained in the Freedom Socialist, Vol. 12, No. 2:

Want provided for the “liberation” of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the early ’20s, enabling it to take hold of the state as a gendarme bringing “order” to the mad scramble for existence.

As policeman, the bureaucrat stood first in line for life’s good things. And so, despite the crying need for change, above all revolution in the West, the Stalinist watchwords became “don’t upset the applecart,” ... “peaceful coexistence” with capitalism, and “socialism in one country,” the USSR.

The bureaucrats failed to conjure away the imperialist threat ... and allowed the West to retain the world’s wealth while the Soviet Union stumbled along in tatters for decades.

Tatters and rags — and a police state to forestall revolt against the bureaucracy that had betrayed the revolution. A grim parody of socialism, this Stalinist paradise. And no alternative whatever to imperialism.

Trotsky predicted that if the workers didn’t oust the bureaucrats, the bureaucrats would sell out to the capitalists. And along came Gorbachev, and behind him the Yeltsins ...

Cleaning them all out is the job of the workers.

The workers’ fundamental task — to realize that poverty and debasement are all that can come from “socialism in one country” and “coexistence” with the West, and that for the good life to be theirs world capitalism must perish as surely as Stalinism.

They are headed toward a clash with both bureaucrats and bosses, the bad apples East and West. This means an international conflict and the need to make common cause with the workers of the U.S. and Europe.

Western workers are faced with war, depression, and fascist jackboots in the corridors of power — and they’ll respond to Soviet workers’ initiatives. How long can the bad apples stand against their combined power?

We’re talking about a world socialist revolution, food on the table, and the good life for everyone.