Sunday, December 19, 2004


Ukraine, dogmatism and reality

I'm somewhat mystified by the standpoint of the British Workers Revolutionary Party about the events of the Ukraine. The link I posted earlier doesn't work - the webpage of their newspaper Newsline doesn't seem to have an archive of any kind - but their statement can be read here as well. Shortly, the WRP believe that the former East Bloc and Soviet Union states are still proletarian states, and that the fight between Yanukovich and Yuschenko is a fight between the stalinist bureaucracy and encroaching counterrevolution. I suppose it's a nice example of where dogmatism can lead you.

The clinch here is that Trotsky stated that restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union (and by extension the East Bloc states which would later come into existence) would not go about without a civil war: part of the Stalinist caste which presided over the bureaucratized but fundamentally working-class state would be moved to defend the socialized economy, and, of course, the working class itself would. The line of thought behind the WRPs standpoint is that since there has been no civil war in the former SU, there has been no counterrevolution: the East Bloc and former SU states are still working-class states.

First remark that should be made here is that, though there has been no all-out civil war on the whole territory of the SU and the East Bloc states, the political changes leading up to the restoration of capitalism in the early 1990s have been accompanied by armed conflict at various points. Ceaucescu and his apparatus did not go down quietly in Romania. Gorbachev attempted to smother independence movements in the Baltic States - which were really the first signs of the whole unravelling of the Soviet Union - by the use of force. In the former Soviet Union itself, both the coup attempt against Gorbachev in August 1991 as well as the defense of the Russian parliament by Rutskoy and Chasbulatov against Yeltsin in 1993 can be seen as desperate attempts by parts of the Stalinist bureaucracy (in case of the 1991 coup, a very pathetic attempt) to forestall an all-out restoration of capitalism.

Second, the Party leadership, and the Party bureaucracy, at the time of Trotsky was a slightly different animal than that of the East Bloc states at the end of the 1980s. In the 1930s, a rather big portion of the Soviet leadership consisted of people who had been active themselves in the October revolution - even as the "Old Bolsheviks" such as Bukharin and Zinoviev were killed off. A rather big portion of the bureaucracy consisted of workers. Yezhov, Stalin's secret police chief, was a former steel worker, and there were many like him. Decades later, the Party bureaucracy had turned more and more into a dyed-in-the-wool caste of its own. Where Trotsky could identify both a "Reiss" faction - which would, when push comes to shove - defend rather than sell-out the workers' state - and a "Butenko" faction which would throw in its lot with the restoration of capitalism, it's much more difficult to pinpoint a possible "Reiss" faction in the 1980s (Markus Wolf in the DDR, probably, but there were much too few Markus Wolfs in the DDR at the end).

This all while Trotsky did not expect the Soviet Union and its leadership to survive the expected invasion by the Nazis intact. So, the Party leadership which would, in Trotsky's expectation, face the choice between capitalist restoration or a fight to defend the working-class fundaments of the state would be roughly the same that Trotsky knew in the 1930s. Instead, the Soviet Union proved more vital than expected against the Nazi onslaught and generations of Party bureaucrats would come before the Soviet Union would be finished. This of course created an immediate split within the Trotskyist movement - part of which believed Stalinism to be an essentially less transient phenomenon than Trotsky expected and braced for centuries and centuries of Stalinism to come, part of which believed Trotsky's analysis of the former Soviet Union to be fundamentally working-class to be mistaken and instead argued that they constituted a particular form of capitalism - state capitalism.

Either answer is quite healthy (though I personally disagree with both) in that if the theory does not predict or rule out event X, and event X obviously occurs, the theory must be modified. A less healthy reaction is to argue that event X does, in fact, not occur - and that anyone who says that event X has, in fact, occurred, must be a defeatist or a revisionist who has given up on the vitally necessary defense of the situation pre-event X. For examples of this, visit the newsgroup alt.politics.socialism.trotsky at Google Groups.

The most intelligent defense of the idea that the restoration of capitalism in the former Eastern Bloc might have been a somewhat gradual process, with various phaes of a pro-capitalist government and a socialist economic base in between, is this long article by Ted Grant and Alan Woods, The collapse of Stalinism and the Russian state. At the moment, I guess the only case where a debate on the class nature of the state is possible would be Belarus, whose economy the CIA factbook (granted, not the best of available sources), described thusly:

Belarus has seen little structural reform since 1995, when President LUKASHENKO launched the country on the path of "market socialism." In keeping with this policy, LUKASHENKO reimposed administrative controls over prices and currency exchange rates and expanded the state's right to intervene in the management of private enterprises. In addition, businesses have been subject to pressure on the part of central and local governments, e.g., arbitrary changes in regulations, numerous rigorous inspections, retroactive application of new business regulations, and arrests of "disruptive" businessmen and factory owners. A wide range of redistributive policies has helped those at the bottom of the ladder. For the time being, Belarus remains self-isolated from the West and its open-market economies

Another, perhaps more dodgy case might have been rump Yugoslavia until Milosevic's ouster in 2000 (if so, and I'm not saying it is so, this would have massive consequences for the position one would have to take, retrospectively, towards the Kosovo war). But surely no others. To argue, for example, that the former DDR, after having been incorporated into the German Federal Republic for some 13 years, is still a proletarian state - as I've seen supporters of the WRP do - flies somewhat in the face of reality. Likewise, the current conflict in the Ukraine is one of conflicting geopolitical orientations, rather than a question of the restoration of capitalism - when it comes to that, the cow has drowned a long time ago, and it's no use draining the canal anymore.

- Merlijn

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